It has been quite some time since drivers such as A.J Foyt and Mario Andretti used to compete and win in virtually everything on four wheels. However, there has been a revival of that sort of competitor as this year we have witnessed a driver earn wins across many of the disciplines that make up the sport of auto racing. Kyle Larson is achieving things that most modern-day racing fans have never seen in their lifetimes by acquiring checkered flags and trophies from highly coveted races within the various forms of motorsports.
It’s rare here in the 21st century to see drivers race outside of their primary discipline on any sort of regular basis. And even then, it will be something like a NASCAR Cup Series competitor stepping down into the ranks of the NASCAR Xfinity Series or an IndyCar regular entering the 24 Hours of Daytona or some other sports car race on an off weekend. But even more rare is the time when someone straps into a Sprint Car or a Dirt Late Model one night then into something as vastly different as a Cup Series car the next but that’s what the Elk Grove, California native has done routinely this season, and for that matter, throughout much of his career.
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More than that though, Larson wins in everything he drives. And it’s not just that he wins, he wins huge events against the best competition that each form of racing has to offer. The term cherry picker is sometimes used in racing to describe someone who enters races where they know the competition will not be particularly tough just for the purpose of scoring an easy payday. That’s definitely not the case with this driver.
Each form of racing has a select few events that are labelled as crown jewels meaning, of course, that those races stand out above the rest within that discipline. And this year, the 29-year-old driver is amassing quite a collection of racing jewelry.
Take his primary discipline for example. Larson and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team have won a total of four points-paying races. But one of those victories came in one of the sport’s most prestigious events as he crossed the finish line ahead of the pack in the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race, along with the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, is considered by most to be one of NASCAR’s crown jewel contests.
Further, Larson padded his bank account earlier this year when he took home $1 million from the NASCAR All-Star race at the Texas Motor Speedway. That event might not be considered a crown jewel but it certainly pays like one.
Sprint Car racing’s top event is the Knoxville Nationals held each year at the Knoxville(IA) Raceway and Larson will likely be counted among the favorites when that happening takes place next weekend. But like NASCAR, there is more than one crown jewel in that form of racing.
Larson triumphed last month in one of the two King’s Royal features held at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. After crashing his Paul Silva-owned Sprint Car in preparation for the first King’s Royal, the No. 57 crew made a quick turnaround that same day to get the machine ready for a second $175,000-to-win race. As a result of those efforts, “Yung Money” added another crown jewel to his collection when he took the checkered flag and sat on the throne atop Eldora’s victory lane stage.
Dirt Late Model racing has several crown jewels with Eldora’s World 100 and the Dirt Late Model Dream typically considered the biggest of them all. The Dirt Track World Championship, the North-South 100, and the USA Nationals are among several races that are very much coveted by competitors in that form of motorsports. And one race that has really been on the rise over the past several years is the Prairie Dirt Classic held annually at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway in Illinois.
Not only does the PDC dole out a handsome $50,000-to-win check but it is also known for having one of the most energetic and raucous atmospheres of any sporting event. Virtually every driver who has ever sat in a Dirt Late Model would love to win that race. And this year, Kyle Larson did exactly that when he took the Kevin Rumley-prepared No. 6 Longhorn Chassis to Fairbury’s victory lane thus adding another crown jewel to his collection.
What’s more impressive about Larson’s achievements in a Dirt Late Model is that he has relatively little experience in that type of race car. He only participated in in his first Super Late Model race near the end of the 2020 season yet he has won on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series, and the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series, which all boast stellar fields of competitors.
One of the hardest races to win on the planet has to be the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals held each year in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Literally hundreds of racers from across all disciplines enter that event held inside the River Spirit Expo Center and compete for an entire week just to get themselves into the ‘A-main’ on Saturday night. It is most definitely a crown jewel race for Midget Sprint Cars.
Kyle Larson has won the Chili Bowl in each of the past two years.
But all of that, brings us to the question in the title of this column. Is Kyle Larson worthy of comparisons to all-time racing greats A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti?
In a column posted to this website in January of this year, I pointed out that Larson needs to do more within his primary form of racing to reach the level known as a generational talent. So far in 2021, he has significantly added to his list of accomplishments in the NASCAR Cup Series. But while his work this season has been impressive, he still needs more in terms of career achievements. While he did earn a crown jewel in Charlotte, he has never won the sport’s marquee race -the Daytona 500- nor has he earned a Cup Series championship.
What Larson has done up to this point in 2021 is amazing and could very well go down as one of the greatest all-around seasons any race car driver has ever had. But Foyt and Andretti were great for long periods of time. They won championships and piled up crown jewel wins over multiple seasons, not just one.
So, is Kyle Larson worthy of comparisons to A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti? My answer for now would be not yet. But “yet” might very well be the key word in that statement.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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