Larson’s Meteoric Rise Draws Comparisons To Parnelli Jones

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Although a youthful 22 years of age, Kyle Larson seems to be on the fast track to stardom. Old timers believe the young Californian’s skills and accomplishments are similar to that of legendary driver Parnelli Jones, who excelled and won often while racing midgets, sprint cars, Indy cars and stock cars.

Larson grew up racing and winning on dirt while driving powerful sprint cars. It didn’t take scouts long to recognize his talents and it wasn’t long before he moved into USAC ranks where he became a consistent winner.

With an eye for up-and-coming talent, Chip Ganassi signed Larson, moving him into unchartered territory – stock-car racing. While late models and cars with roofs were new to Larson, he took to them like a duck to water, quickly climbing the ladder of success.

While many young racers have been moved ahead too fast and failed to live up to their potential, Ganassi took a chance and pushed Larson ahead, even though he was criticized for doing so. Larson quickly proved the second-guessers wrong by excelling in NASCAR, first with a brief run in the Camping World Truck Series, then the Nationwide Series and in 2014, the premier division, the Sprint Cup Series.

In 2014, the young driver was a threat to win in several races when he challenged the stars for the front-running positions. While he didn’t win in his freshman season, he did come close with three runner-up finishes, a pair of third places and 17 top 10s, ending up 17th in points and earning more than $5 million for the team.

Unassuming, Larson believes he let a couple of races get away and hopes to do better in the new season. “It was a pretty solid season,” he noted. “I would have liked to make the Chase and win a race but other than that, it was a really good year. We won the rookie award when many people thought we didn’t have a chance, which made it even better.”

Reflecting on the 2014 season, Larson said, “I think I could have won Chicago if those last couple of cautions hadn’t come out. And Kansas is another place where we ran well and if we could have gotten into the lead, we could have won. Me and Joey Logano were pretty even.”

His goals for 2015 are to win at least once and make the Chase. “Had we made the Chase in 2014, I think we would have finished sixth in points,” he added.

Even though Larson found the time commitments with Sprint Cup greater than anticipated, he did manage to return to his roots – dirt-track racing — when the season ended, competing in the iconic Turkey Night Grand Prix at the Perris Auto Speedway, an all-star midget race that draws the best talent in the land. Larson fought hard to garner second place.

A few days ago, he got his first opportunity to race a winged-sprint car that he co-owns, winning a feature race in the ballyhooed Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown at Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway.

Larson was subbing for regular driver Shane Stewart, who had just become a new father two days before the race.

“It was a lot of fun to run Turkey Night, and a lot of fun to run my sprint car, picking up a win, too,” Larson said. “It was cool, and it was my first time running that engine and chassis.”

Next weekend, he travels to Tulsa for the famed Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, a race that is expected to draw more than 200 strong competitors.

Adding meaning to the Chili Bowl race, Larson will be accompanied by his significant other, Katelyn Sweet and their new son, Owen, will be getting his baptism in racing. (Owen was born on December 22.) Thereafter, Owen will accompany his parents to the Daytona 500.

“Everything will evolve around Owen now, which is great. I am really looking forward to spending time with him,” the new father said.

While dirt-track racing thrills Larson, his primary allegiance is to the Ganassi organization and on the final weekend of January, Larson will co-drive Ganassi’s Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype in the Rolex24 at Daytona. His teammates are Indianapolis 500 winners Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon along with NASCAR regular Jamie McMurray. The potent Ganassi team is seeking its sixth Rolex24 victory.

“Driving the sports car makes for a difficult transition,” Larson said. “These cars are really different – the tires, the whole cockpit, the steering, the throttle – it is tough. I am on a great team and we rely upon Tony and Scott to tell us about the car.”

The only thing missing from Larson’s report card is the Indianapolis 500, and he hopes to do it in the future.

Regardless, Larson’s comparison to Parnelli Jones should grow stronger as checkered flags are added to his score card.

Share Button