Hardly any modern day NASCAR fan knew (or cared) about the World of Outlaws and dirt winged sprint car racing before Kyle Larson discussed the sport at every opportunity (don’t worry Tony Stewart will get his credit too).
The World of Outlaws have always played second fiddle in the motorsports scene, but for those of us who grew up with it on TNN, they were the cool looking cars with wings on top that had wild wrecks flipping in the air.
As a kid, all I wanted to be was a sprint car driver. I was lucky enough to get into go-cart racing on dirt at a young age, then dirt micro-sprints, and eventually I ran dirt winged sprint cars for a few years like the ones I saw on TV and at my local dirt track.
Characters from the dirt track, especially with sprint cars, felt like rock stars. You could see everything, meet anyone, and the races were packed with excitement. Nothing obscures your view at most dirt tracks, and you feel like you’re sitting on top of the action. There’s also something about the “local guys” with small trailers against the “guys from out of town” with big tractor trailers from large teams with big bucks.
I imagine it’s like how NASCAR started. In fact, it very much is. So for guys like myself, or at a higher level (but same generation) Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, etc. etc. that kind of racing is what they gravitated towards, as fans and as drivers, because it gave us the feeling I imagine the old timers felt when Richard Petty came to your local dirt or asphalt track to race against the best you had with the road warrior series at the time – NASCAR. This was well before the private jets and million dollar motor coaches.
Kyle Larson is the official dirt racing ambassador right now in NASCAR. Tony Stewart knocked down the door, and should be recognized as the guy who bridged the gap between pop culture motorsports and pro racing at the ground level. But Kyle Larson, I feel is a catalyst in changing things around NASCAR to make it better – inspired by dirt short track racing.
When Stewart started a World of Outlaws team in the early 2000’s with Danny Lasoski it changed things for this future (millennial) generation. It legitimized the sport for some, and awoken the love for it in others.
The seeds were sown, the likes of Kyle Larson grew up in the age of NASCAR drivers owning these top tier sprint car teams. Kasey Kahne Racing and Tony Stewart Racing are now established patriarchs, and there’s no question Larson, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. idolized that and said, “when I get to NASCAR, I’m going to do the same thing.”
And the same thing they did. Larson (25) and Stenhouse Jr. (30) both own World of Outlaws teams just like stalwarts Kahne and Stewart. However, Larson has taken it a step further…
Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne were established NASCAR drivers by the time they owned their World of Outlaw teams (or any other race teams as both dabbled in USAC as well). The difference with Kyle Larson is it appears he has taken the very first big paycheck he received and bought a sprint car with it.
Larson has mentioned he would love to leave NASCAR at some point after he’s made enough money and run the World of Outlaws full-time “comfortably” (a 90+ race schedule) [source: #OpenRed Podcast ep. 77]
So, why should we thank him?
Because Kyle Larson is improving on what the generation before laid in front of him. He’s not as brash or negative as a Tony Stewart, and he’s certainly not low-key like a Kasey Kahne. Larson promotes dirt track racing, short track racing for that matter, in a way to the media that’s like “hey guys, come check this out… see what we’re doing over here” …and it’s working.
Larson mentioned on Sirius XM’s The Morning Drive program yesterday morning (2/27/18) that Atlanta, or other “cookie cutter mile and a half’s” considering a repave should do an entire reconstruction to a short track (he suggested a 3/4 mile). Talk about excitement for fans!
When you don’t have the power to change things immediately, sometimes you can slowly through incremental, grass roots steps. Get the “big wigs” to see what’s going on in dirt racing today, see the crowds, how packed the seats are, how fun seeing everything on the track is, and the car counts (only 36 NASCAR cup series cars took the start at Atlanta last week). I believe he’s making calculated moves to not just better promote another motorsport – “our sport” – as he calls it, but to also help NASCAR catch up and remember what racing is all about.
The World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series hits the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway tonight (2/28) and tomorrow (3/1) to coincide with the NASCAR race this weekend. If you’re in the area, check it out. It’s quickly become the new hip scene for NASCAR’s brightest talent.