By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Through the dust of dirt racing critics, Kyle Larson is standing his ground.
After his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman suffered a fractured vertebrae at a Tuesday sprint car race in Iowa, debates ignited on drivers’ extracurricular racing outside NASCAR throughout the garage.
For Larson, the long-time dirt racing extraordinaire, he supports drivers running sprint cars. Following 10 years of Cup racing, the 2021 champion continues to be adamant on skipping the simulator, instead hitting the country’s best dirt tracks to feel “the realism, the competition, the joy” of a physical racing car.
“A simulator is not real, that’s why I don’t spend any time in a simulator,” Larson said Saturday at Dover Motor Speedway. “I don’t ever get in the Chevy simulator, I don’t ever get on iRacing. The best tool for me is to race.”
More than thrill-seeking, dirt racing is a large part of Larson’s seasonal business model.
“I don’t just do it for fun, I don’t just do it for training, I also make a lot of money racing. So, it’s more than that, it’s business for me,” he said. “I make a good chunk of money racing, selling merchandise at the dirt tracks. I get to race in front of a lot of fans who may not get to see me at a NASCAR race.”
Like any activity, there is inherent risk attached, and many reacted to the Bowman injury by declaring it unworthy of such risk. Larson hit back on these comments.
“There is risk in everything you do,” he said. “You see what happened to us at Talladega last week… there is more risk there than in a sprint car.
“I think dirt racing gets a bad rap from time to time. People assume the odds are much higher getting hurt in a sprint car. I would love to see the data that would prove that because I don’t view it that way. We’ve had drivers out with concussions, drivers breaking bones, I’ve broken bones in a Cup car, I’ve honestly escaped death a couple times in a stock car. All racing is dangerous.
“Everybody — I heard [Jamie] McMurray this week on Race Hub, Denny [Hamlin] was texting me this week… and I appreciate the concern. But they all say that the odds will eventually catch up to guys like me who race dirt. I feel like the odds are more going to catch up to me on a superspeedway.”
Indeed, Larson has had his share of ugly incidents at NASCAR’s superspeedways of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. One of which occurred Sunday (two days prior to Bowman’s sprint car accident) where Larson’s roll cage was severed after a head-on blow from Ryan Preece.
“I’ve been close to being seriously hurt in 2013, I flipped seriously hard at Talladega in , I’ve broken a rib at Talladega, I’ve had a car come in my cockpit now at Talladega. That’s just to name a few, that’s not even talking about all the other big wrecks I’ve had at Daytona.”
“[Preece] was in my cockpit. It’s unsettling when you see things that could have easily gotten me in the car. Whether it be bars that had completely broke off and could have shanked me.
“I’m not knocking NASCAR at all on that. They’ve worked really hard on this car to make it safer. I’m glad they took mine and Preece’s cars to dive in deeper to make them ever safer yet. There is no other form of racing, in my opinion, that takes safety more seriously than them. But that doesn’t mean our sport is safe.”
Despite the recent injury of a high-caliber NASCAR driver, Larson has seen improvements in sprint car safety that can hopefully lessen the blow of similar impacts moving forward.
“Back injuries are the most normal injury,” he said. “Just like Alex’s, landing flat on the frame rails, which could easily happen in [a Cup car] if it lands just right. I know there are some safety products out there that address that issue. They are very new products some guys are running. Kasey Kahne runs it, I’ve already talked to him about it and what he’s felt with it. There’s not much data right now on that product.
“Thankfully, it wasn’t worse than that. We have seen drivers end up with worse injuries than that. It was a pretty emotional week on that side of things.”