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November 21, 2021

Larson and the ladybug: How a good-luck charm came along for the ride

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

PLACERVILLE, Calif. — Kyle Larson has faithfully had a ladybug image tucked away on his race cars, a good-luck charm that’s followed him from childhood all the way to NASCAR’s top levels. How it got there is its own charming piece of racing lore.

Mike Larson, Kyle’s father, recounts a story about three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford. One race-day morning just before his third Indy win in 1980, “Lone Star J.R.” noticed that a ladybug had landed on him. Believing in the good fortune of the omen, Rutherford told his crew that the rest of the field was racing for second that day. He loaded in and drove his “Yellow Submarine” Chaparral to a convincing victory.

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Mike Larson liked the story so much that he once said that if his son ever got involved in racing that he’d include a ladybug somewhere in the paint job. Now here we are, his son a Cup Series champion and still carrying the charm on his cars and many of his T-shirts and other racing souvenirs.

The Larsons said they had a chance encounter with Rutherford at the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa years ago, jumping at the opportunity to tell him how they had adopted his good-luck mascot as one of their own. Rutherford shared a laugh and wished them well, bringing the origin story full circle.