The Untold Truth Of Race Car Driver Kyle Larson

There are few personal qualities that most thrill-seeking, speed-loving race-car enthusiasts could want beyond those that driver Kyle Larson has been offering since his emergence on the racing scene. In terms of sheer achievement, Larson's record at the track speaks volumes. In an interview with NBC Sports, NASCAR President Steve Phelps described Kyle Larson as "an incredible and special talent," further elaborating on the quote by saying, "We really haven't seen anyone like him in decades, maybe ever."

If you've been following racing at all in recent years, you will likely already know that Larson was the first to claim double-digit Cup wins since the legendary driver Jimmie Johnson did so back in 2007, making Kyle Larson perhaps the most competitive victor in 15 years, reports KSAT. Here's the dirt on NASCAR's notorious wheelman who's poised to take the Daytona 500 (via Orlando Sentinel), and subsequently the world, by storm.

He got his start driving a neighbor's go-kart in 1999

NASCAR has a reputation for creating generational winning drivers. Indeed, most father-son and sibling duos in this sport have passed the wheel down in succession, paving the way for drivers of the future (via Bleacher Report). However, Kyle Larson is a first-generation NASCAR driver who found his way into racing purely upon happenstance, after taking a liking to a neighbor's Outlaw go-kart, which he and his dad decided to purchase in 1999 on a bit of a whim.

"We pushed that car from that house, about 100 yards away, over to ours and rolled it up into the garage," Kyle's dad, Mike Larson, proclaimed in an interview with sponsor Hendrick Motorsports.

The Larson family invested approximately $1,200 to get the go-kart up and running, but back then, 7-year-old Kyle was more in tune with computer racing, and his dad believes that tech helped hone his talent. According to his father, Kyle's an even better driver because he "stayed in the house" engaging with computer racing before finally giving open-wheeled cars a go.

He thrives on frustration

There are countless things at the racetrack that get racers' adrenaline pumping — from the smell of burning rubber to the visceral thrill of accelerating beyond your wildest dreams. But for Kyle Larson, the feeling that makes him such a reckoning force behind the wheel is none other than frustration.

According to Essentially Sports, Larson explained, "I honestly enjoy being frustrated, you know, challenging [competitors] and being frustrated only makes you grow as a driver, and grow quickly too."

Over the years, Larson has certainly found himself in some rather frustrating positions, too. He's been involved in devastating speedway crashes (via NBC Sports) and childhood rivalries that endured all the way to present-day finish lines (via Sports Casting). He's also been caught up in career-damaging controversies (per Sporting News) such as when Larson used a racial slur when speaking to another player during a racing event on the streaming gaming platform Twitch. Larson was swiftly fired by Chip Ganassi Racing, was suspended by NASCAR, and was promptly dropped by all his sponsors. 

His maternal grandparents survived an America-based internment camp

According to History, American internment camps were established to hold individuals of Japanese descent against their will during World War II. This harrowing historical moment was ushered into U.S. policy via President Franklin D. Roosevelt's notorious Executive Order 9066, and it touched the Larson family with precision. Sportscasting reports that both of Kyle Larson's maternal grandparents survived the horrors of being housed in the internment camps as a result of their Japanese heritage.

In an interview recapping the incident, Larson admits he didn't hear very much about the concentration camps his grandparents endured growing up and didn't perceive it as being a pivotal part of his family's identity. However, his early career was heavily rooted in his being a part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity development program which seeks to create an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion on and off the track (via NASCAR). Despite being a pivotal part of NASCAR's diversity campaign, Larson nevertheless had to deal with the consequences of his own racially motivated hate speech (per NBC News).

He's been through sensitivity training

Race became a very sensitive matter in April of 2020 when this rising star of NASCAR was caught using a racial slur of epic proportions. NBC News reports that the conversation took place during a virtual esport event Larson and fellow drivers were engaged in during the pandemic. Believing he was muted, Kyle Larson used the N-word in the virtual arena. Not only was his hate-speech audible, but it was also livestreamed, causing pain for many who heard it. Following the incident, he was suspended by NASCAR indefinitely, and his downward spiral led to a loss of friends and sponsorships.

Prior to being reinstated by the stock-car racing giant, Larson was required to complete a sensitivity training course detailing the struggles ethnic minorities have faced on American soil. He also hired a personal diversity coach and volunteered at retired soccer star Tony Sanneh's foundation, where he was educated on the devastating impact of racially motivated hatred like police brutality. In his first interview since the suspension, he expressed regret, telling the Associated Press reporters, "I made a mistake and I'm paying for it and I accept that."

His rule-breaking antics and unparalleled versatility make him a fan favorite

Business Insider reports that after this Rookie of the Year won his first Nationwide Series race, he celebrated by doing burnouts without his steering wheel. Adding to the danger of this particular stunt is the fact that NASCAR expressly forbade Larson from removing the steering wheel, and he openly defied that order. 

Despite his transgressions, though, fame and victory seem to follow Kyle Larson everywhere he goes, whether he is in a sprint car, a NASCAR, a midget car, or rising right out of the dirt. His victories are perhaps only exceeded by this kind of versatility that makes him boundless and enduring, causing fans to swoon and fellow racers to award him high respect. In fact, Larson's longtime idol Jeff Gordon who is currently the vice-chairman of Hendrick Motorsports has plenty of praise, telling NASCAR reporters, "I've always admired him."