Weighing in On Larson!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Kyle Larson has been dominating a track near you (Rob Kocak Photo)Kyle Larson has been dominating a track near you (Rob Kocak Photo) (Bill W) August 19, 2020, Monroe, IA – I’ve avoided it as best I can.  The comparisons of Kyle Larson’s season to some of our legends in the past started about as soon as he left NASCAR and started annihilating the open wheel competition. 
I normally avoid these comparisons like the plague and will do so now, with a few caveats.  Comparing eras in racing is not different than comparing them in any other walk of life.  Times change, technology changes, society changes, people change and they evolve.  We are bigger, stronger, faster and supposedly smarter than we were in the past.
What Kyle, and crew chief, Paul Silva, are doing right now is special.  Talk to his fellow drivers, car owners, mechanics, media members and fans…no one doubts that.  The run he has been on has been incredible.
Back in the summer of 2013, I was tasked to compare Kyle (at the time 21 years old) to Jeff Gordon at the same age by Flat Out Magazine.  That article can be found at the bottom of this document.  To be fair, I didn’t want to do it, and by reading it, you may be able to tell it was a struggle.  And really, with all due respect to Jeff, there was no comparison in their open wheel accomplishments at that age.  Kyle was already that good.  Don’t get me wrong.  Jeff had the same kind of God given ability, and he proved that in an illustrious NASCAR career.  Jeff was a USAC midget champion, and headed south immediately at a very early age for the times.
The most common comparison of a single season to Kyle’s in 2020 is Doug Wolfgang.  With Doug, you have to ask, which year?  He set the single season standard at the time (mostly with Bob Trostle) at 45 wins in 1977.  Like Kyle, he had ran where the money was, and he and Bob built their car themselves.  With Bob Weikert and the Davey Brown Jr. and Sr., Wolfie notched a mind boggling 53 in 1985 in another independent season (I believe poor Keith Kauffman’s 32 that year with Al Hamilton was largely ingnored).  And if you were around in 1989, you remember the dominance he had aboard young Danny Peace’s #8D wrenched by Deuce Turrill.  They won 44 times and earned over $500,000.  While the rest squabbled amongst the World of Outlaws/USA split, they came in and beat them both whenever they felt like it seemed.  Sound familiar?  A bit.
Steve Kinser is the modern sprint car king as far as wins go.  Sure he had Karl turning the wrenches, but Steve’s determination pulled a so-so car through on more than a few occasions.  How about 56 sprint car wins in a season?  That’s the current record he set in 1987.  He was racing the best every single night, and won a whopping 46 of the 69 World of Outlaws feature events (that included 24 of the last 26)!  We haven’t heard Larson’s bounty compared to that season, and rightfully so…not yet anyway!  Like Kyle, Steve and Doug did it with and without the wing.
Donny Schatz has been dominating in a time when equipment has been equalized.  He is smooth, and races clean.  He is a ten-time World of Outlaws champion.  Sammy Swindell has been as dominant as anyone in his career.
Others have been on rails in different eras.  Hooker Hood wrapped up over 100 feature wins in his super-modified in the mid-south in 1967 and 1968.  
In the early 1900’s, races were fewer and careers much shorter.  That said, drivers like the “King of the Dirt Tracks,” Gus Schrader, Emory Collins and Jimmie Wilburn stood out.  But they racked up the wins as well!  Check out this all-time top 20 in sanctioned wins only from 1900-2019 (thanks Bob Mays). 
1. Steve Kinser 764
2. Sammy Swindell 481
3. Emory Collins 359
4. Donny Schatz 318
5. Gus Schrader 290
6. Doug Wolfgang 237
7. Gary Wright 230
8. Brent Kaeding 221
9. Mark Kinser 220
10. Danny Lasoski 219
11. Jimmie Wilburn 208
12. Bobby Grim 185
13. Joey Saldana 183
14. Ralph DePalma 179
15. Dale Blaney 151
(tie) Mark Dobmeier 151
17. Dave Blaney 149
18. Jac Haudenschild 128
19. Ron Shuman 127
20. Deb Snyder 124
Pretty cool stuff.  As I walk amongst the plaques of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees, one thing sticks out when I see a Hall of Fame driver.  Of the ones I’ve been fortunate to see race, when I showed up at a racetrack on a certain night, I knew that in 99% of the cases of the drivers I see in the Hall of Fame (and maybe more), that was the driver everyone was looking to beat on any given night.
It could have been Gary Wright at Devil’s Bowl, Terry McCarl at Huset’s, Lance Dewease or Kauffman at the Port, Doug Wolfgang or Danny Lasoski at Knoxville, Dave Darland at Bloomington, Sammy Swindell at Bristol, Brent Kaeding at San Jose, Richard Griffin at Perris or Steve Kinser just about anywhere.  I suspect that’s the way it was for Gus Schrader, or Emory Collins, or Wilburn or Deb Snyder.
So you see why I’m reluctant to compare Kyle to others.  But Kyle is in that zone right now.  I knew when I watched USAC Indiana Midget Week.  I knew when I saw him race with the All Stars this season, I knew at PA and OH Speedweeks, and I knew when all the money was on the line last weekend in Knoxville…he’s the one to beat.  He is special, and I’m enjoying watching him while I can. 
I also enjoy what a good person he is.  He takes time for the fans, and there are many.  He takes time to come in the Hall of Fame, take his time, and appreciate the history of the sport.  He’s going back to NASCAR as soon as that is possible…but he will be back, and he will always be present.  And we are all the better for it!
Speaking of Kyle, with all the winning, he’s snuck into second place behind Brian Brown in the Midwest Thunder Sprint Series presented by OpenWheel101.com point standings.  That may be more cash headed his way if he sticks around the Midwest a while!
Please think about donating to the point fund for our drivers!  Until next time…
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Up Next for the Midwest Thunder Sprints…

Fri, Aug 21 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA)
Fri, Aug 21 – River Cities Speedway (ND) (WoO)
Sat, Aug 22 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA)
Sun, Aug 23 – Red River Valley Speedway (ND) (WoO)
Fri, Aug 28 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Sat, Aug 29 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Sat, Aug 29 – US36 Raceway (MO) (WoO)
Sun, Aug 30 – Dirt Oval Route 66 (IL) (IRA)
Sun, Aug 30 – I-80 Speedway (NE) (WoO)
2020 Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by www.OpenWheel101.com Point Standings (Feature Wins)
1. Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO, 530 (3)
2. Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA, 490 (8)
3. Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA, 479 (3)
4. Kerry Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 473
5. Bill Balog, Hartland, WI, 370 (4)
6. Ian Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 359
7. Austin McCarl, Altoona, IA, 354
8. Shane Stewart, Bixby, OK, 321
9. Dominic Scelzi, Fresno, CA, 254
10. Matt Juhl, Tea, SD, 249
11. Kasey Kahne, Enumclaw, WA, 245
12. Tim Kaeding, Campbell, CA, 232
13. Gio Scelzi, Fresno, CA, 230
14. Aaron Reutzel, Clute, TX, 210 (2)
15. Cory Eliason, Visalia, CA, 206 (1)
16. Paul Nienhiser, Chapin, IL, 197 (1)
17. Justin Henderson, Tea, SD, 184 (1)
(tie) Lynton Jeffrey, Prairie City, IA, 184
19. Josh Schneiderman, West Burlington, IA, 172
20. Terry McCarl, Altoona, IA, 158
21. Hunter Schuerenberg, Sikeston, MO, 146
22. Davey Heskin, St. Michael, MN, 139
23. Sammy Swindell, Germantown, TN, 125
24. Scotty Thiel, Sheboygan, WI, 108
25. Scott Neitzel, Beaver Dam, WI, 99
26. Jeremy Schultz, Beaver Dam, WI, 96
27. Russel Borland, Kewaskum, WI, 95
28. Brooke Tatnell, Sans Souci, NSW, Aust., 92
29. Trey Starks, Puyallup, WA, 88
(tie) Paul McMahan, Nashville, TN, 88
31. Jake Blackhurst, Hanna City, IL, 87
32. Tyler Courtney, Indianapolis, IN, 77
33. Blake Nimee, Oswego, IL, 74
34. Cale Thomas, Fairland, IN, 72
35. Brent Marks, Myerstown, PA, 70
(tie) Spencer Bayston, Lebanon, IN, 70
37. Tucker Klaasmeyer, Paola, KS, 69
38. Joe B. Miller, Millersville, MO, 64
39. Tasker Phillips, Pleasantville, IA, 60
(tie) Zach Daum, Pocahontas, IL, 60
41. Anthony Macri, Dillsburg, PA, 58
42. Jacob Patton, Bethalto, IL, 56
(tie) Sawyer Phillips, Pleasantville, IA, 56
44. Jordan Goldesberry, Springfield, IL, 55
(tie) Dave Uttech, Kenosha, WI, 55
(tie) Shane Golobic, Fremont, CA, 55
47. Mark Dobmeier, Grand Forks, ND, 52
(tie) Paige Polyak, Tiffin, OH, 52
49. Sam Hafertepe Jr., Sunnyvale, CA, 44
(tie) Tim Shaffer, Aliquippa, PA, 44
51. Scott Biertzer, West Bend, WI, 43
52. Todd Daun, Pleasant Prairie, WI, 42
53. Ayrton Gennetten, Gravois Mills, MO, 41
54. Todd King, Sheboygan Falls, WI, 40
55. AJ Moeller, Rockwell City, IA, 39
56. Brian Bell, Gallaway, TN, 38
(tie) Joey Saldana, Brownsburg, IN, 38
58. Kris Spitz, Salem, WI, 36
59. Joey Moughan, Springfield, IL, 35
(tie) Riley Goodno, Knoxville, IA, 35
(tie) Mike Reinke, Howards Grove, WI, 35
62. Sean Rayhall, Woodstock, GA, 34
63. Terry Babb, Decatur, IL, 32
(tie) Kyle Schuett, Philo, IL, 32
(tie) Austin O’Dell, Rochester, IL, 32
66. Skylar Gee, Leduc, ALB, Can., 30
(tie) Wayne Modjeski, Oak Creek, WI, 30
68. Brayton Lynch, Springfield, IL, 28
69. James Broty, Lonsdale, MN, 26
(tie) Zeb Wise, Angola, IN, 26
(tie) Rob Pribnow, Lomira, WI, 26
(tie) James McFadden, Warrnambool, VIC, Aust., 26
73. Robbie Standridge, Springfield, IL, 25
(tie) Greg Wilson, Benton Ridge, OH, 25
75. Matt VanderVere, Zion, IL, 20
(tie) Ryan Bunton, Morton, IL, 20
(tie) Kevin Ingle, Huron, SD, 20
(tie) Korey Weyant, Springfield, IL, 20
79. Chris Martin, Ankeny, IA, 18
(tie) Bobby Mincer, Burlington, IA, 18
(tie) Kameron Key, Warrensburg, MO, 18
(tie) Jeff Asher, Park Hills, MO, 18
(tie) Hunter Custer, Chippewa Falls, WI, 18
84. Zach Hampton, Indianapolis, IN, 16
(tie) Jereme Schroeder, Lake Villa, IL, 16
(tie) Danny Dietrich, Gettysburg, PA, 16
(tie) Brock Zearfoss, Jonestown, PA, 16
88. Bryce Schmitt, Plymouth, WI, 14
(tie) Corbin Gurley, Hebron, IN, 14
(tie) Dustin Barks, Farmington, MO, 14
(tie) Cory Bruns, Lincoln, IL, 14
(tie) John Fahl, Brown Deer, WI, 14
(tie) Danny Schlafer, Sussex, WI, 14
(tie) Bret Tripplett, Lincoln, IL, 14
95. Josh Baughman, Odessa, TX, 12
(tie) Carson Short, Marion, IL, 12
97. Jeremy Standridge, Springfield, IL, 10
(tie) Tony Kaus, Bloomington, MN, 10
(tie) Chris Klemko, Bristol, WI, 10
(tie) Justin Standridge, Springfield, IL, 10
101. Roger Crockett, Broken Arrow, OK, 8
(tie) Adam Miller, Plymouth, WI, 8
(tie) Tony Wondra, Campbellsport, WI, 8
(tie) Chris Urish, Elkhart, IL, 8
105. Alan Gilbertson, Kasson, MN, 6
(tie) Steve Short, Farmington, MO, 6
(tie) Skylar Prochaska, Lakefield, MN, 6
(tie) Preston Perlmutter, San Antonio, TX, 6
109. Ryan Giles, Grimes, IA, 4
(tie) Jac Haudenschild, Wooster, Oh, 4
(tie) Jody Rosenboom, Rock Rapids, IA, 4
(tie) Jeff Swindell, Memphis, TN, 4
(tie) Jack Routson, Waterman, IL, 4
(tie) Colton Fisher, Mediapolis, IA, 4
(tie) Austin Deblauw, Ventura, CA, 4
(tie) Tyler Shoemaker, Clinton, IL, 4
117. Logan Faucon, Elkhart, IL, 2
(tie) Josh Walter, Plymouth, WI, 2
World of Outlaws member wins…
5, Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA
2, Logan Schuchart, Hanover, PA
2, David Gravel, Watertown, CT
1, Parker Price-Miller, Kokomo, IN
Tentative 2020 Races that will be counted for points with the Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by OpenWheel101.com
Fri, June 5 – Beaver Dam Raceway (WI) WoO (Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA)
Sat, June 6 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO)
Sat, June 6 – Beaver Dam Raceway (WI) WoO (Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA)
Fri, June 12 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) WoO (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Sat, June 13 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) WoO (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Sat, June 20 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Aaron Reutzel, Clute, TX)
Thur, June 25 – Jackson Motorplex (MN) Nationals (Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA)
Fri, June 26 – Jackson Motorplex (MN) Nationals (Logan Schuchart, Hanover, PA)
Sat, June 27 – Jackson Motorplex (MN) Nationals (Logan Schuchart, Hanover, PA)
Fri, July 3 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO)
Fri, July 3 – Cedar Lake Speedway (WI) (WoO) (Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA)
Sat, July 4 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Justin Henderson, Tea, SD)
Sat, July 4 – Cedar Lake Speedway (WI) (WoO) (Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA)
Sun, July 5 – 141 Speedway (WI) (IRA) (Bill Balog, Hartland, WI)
Fri, July 10 – 34 Raceway (IA) (WoO) (Parker Price-Miller, Kokomo, IN)
Sat, July 11 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO)
Sat, July 11 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (WoO) (David Gravel, Watertown, CT)
Fri, July 17 – Lincoln Speedway (IL) (MOWA) (Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA)
Sat, July 18 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA)
Sun, July 19 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA) (Bill Balog, Hartland, WI)
Fri, July 24 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) (MOWA) (Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA)
Sat, July 25 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Aaron Reutzel, Clute, TX)
Thurs, July 30 – Plymouth Dirt Track (WI) (All Stars/IRA) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Fri, July 31 – Langlade County Speedway (WI) (IRA) (Bill Balog, Hartland, WI)
Fri, July 31 – 34 Raceway (IA) (All Stars) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Sat, Aug 1 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (All Stars) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Sun, Aug 2 – Huset’s Speedway (SD) (All Stars) (Cory Eliason, Visalia, CA)
Fri, Aug 7 – I-55 Raceway (MO) (WoO) (Sheldon Haudenschild, Wooster, OH)
Sat, Aug 8 – I-55 Raceway (MO) (Ironman 55) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Sat, Aug 8 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA) (Bill Balog, Hartland, WI)
Sun, Aug 9 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) (Paul Nienhiser, Chapin, IL)
Thurs, Aug 13 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (WoO) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Fri, Aug 14 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (WoO) (David Gravel, Watertown, CT)
Sat, Aug 15 – Knoxville Raceway (IA) (Capitani Classic) (Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA)
Fri, Aug 21 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA)
Fri, Aug 21 – River Cities Speedway (ND) (WoO)
Sat, Aug 22 – Wilmot Raceway (WI) (IRA)
Sun, Aug 23 – Red River Valley Speedway (ND) (WoO)
Fri, Aug 28 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Sat, Aug 29 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Sat, Aug 29 – US36 Raceway (MO) (WoO)
Sun, Aug 30 – Dirt Oval Route 66 (IL) (IRA)
Sun, Aug 30 – I-80 Speedway (NE) (WoO)
Fri, Sept 4 – Dodge County Fairgrounds (WI) (IRA)
Sat, Sept 5 – Plymouth Dirt Track (WI) (IRA)
Sat, Sept 5 – Huset’s Speedway (SD) (WoO)
Sun, Sept 6 – 141 Speedway (WI) (IRA)
Sun, Sept 6 – Huset’s Speedway (SD) (WoO)
Fri, Sept 11 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Fri, Sept 11 – I-70 Speedway (MO) (WoO)
Sat, Sept 12 – Cedar Lake Speedway (WI) (Jerry Richert Memorial)
Sat, Sept 12 – Spoon River Speedway (IL) (Tom Knowles Memorial)
Sat, Sept 12 – I-70 Speedway (MO) (WoO)
Sat, Sept 19 – Beaver Dam Raceway (WI) (IRA)
Fri, Sept 25 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Sat, Sept 26 – Knoxville Raceway (IA)
Fri, Oct 16 – Lakeside Speedway (KS) (WoO)
Sat, Oct 17 – 34 Raceway (IA)
Sat, Oct 17 – Lake Ozark Speedway (MO) (WoO)
Much TBD…
2019 Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by www.OpenWheel101.com Final Point Standings (Feature Wins)

1.  Kerry Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 954 (2)
2.  Bill Balog, Hartland, WI, 947 (7)
3.  Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO, 731 (5)
4.  Terry McCarl, Altoona, IA, 713 (2)
5.  James McFadden, Warrnambool, VIC, Aust., 592 (2)
6.  Austin McCarl, Altoona, IA, 505 (1)
7.  Parker Price-Miller, Kokomo, IN, 484 (1)
8.  Jeremy Schultz, Beaver Dam, WI, 471 (3)
9.  Paul Nienhiser, Chapin, IL, 427 (5)
10. Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA, 400 (2)
2018 Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by www.OpenWheel101.com Point Standings (Feature Wins) Top Ten

1.  Kerry Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 866 (7)
2.  Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO, 686 (7)
3.   Austin McCarl, Altoona, IA, 602 (5)
4.  Terry McCarl, Altoona, IA, 565
5.  Brooke Tatnell, Sans Souci, NSW, Aust., 420 (1)
6.  Scotty Thiel, Sheboygan, WI, 398 (4)
(tie) Davey Heskin, St. Michael, MN, 398
8.  Bill Balog, Hartland, WI, 390 (2)
9.  Cory Eliason, Selma, CA, 386 (1)
10. Matt Juhl, Tea, SD, 365 (1)
2017 Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by www.OpenWheel101.com Final Point Standings (Feature Wins) Top Ten
1. Kerry Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 1086 (5)
2. Ian Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust., 1031 (7)
3. Donny Schatz, Fargo, ND, 800 (6)
4. Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO, 760 (6)
5. Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA, 760 (2)
6. Brooke Tatnell, Sans Souci, NSW, Aust., 533 (1)
7. Shane Stewart, Bixby, OK, 529 (2)
8. David Gravel, Watertown, CT, 481 (3)
9. Terry McCarl, Altoona, IA, 437 (1)
10. Tim Kaeding, San Jose, CA, 425 (2)

The Next Kyle Larson?
(From Flatout Magazine Summer 2013)
by Bill Wright - The term prodigy is thrown around in society too often.  In open wheel racing, anyone competing under the age of twenty is labeled as such.  We always tag these youngsters as “the next Jeff Gordon” or “the next Tony Stewart”.  These labels are just this side of impossible to live up to.  Jeff and Smoke have become the icons that all open wheel youngsters who crave racing on Sunday seek to attain.
One driver is changing our racing terminology.  I remember interviewing Kyle Larson as part of an internet broadcast several years ago.  He was tearing up the dirt karts at Red Bluff and other venues in California and was coming to English Creek Speedway in Iowa during the Nationals.  He was about twelve years old I’m guessing.  He couldn’t have been more modest, something I thought was extraordinary for his age and successes.  Nothing has changed there.  However, while some were soon to label him “the next Jeff Gordon” from California, I knew the road that many of these youngsters take all too well.
It had become all too common for Mom and Dad to buy all the equipment money could buy to chase USAC, starting at the age of sixteen or so, and chase the ghosts of Jeff and Tony.  Many would burn out and some would get a raw deal for a while at the next level.  A minute percentage would get a decent shot.  I wasn’t a believer in Kyle Larson being the next best thing, but maybe I should have been.
We thought it might be fun to do some comparisons of Gordon and Larson.  Comparing individuals may be my least favorite thing to do.  Members of the media like to think they know it all.  I’m far from one of them.  Predicting what will happen in the future is something none of us can do, but we thought it would be fun to do comparison for a current perspective on Larson.
Jeff Gordon has set the standard for young open wheel racers.  When Jeff was running sprints and midgets at the ages of 13, 14, 15 and 16 in the mid-80’s, it was quite the novelty.  Most started in their late teens, or in the case of the greatest of all-time, Steve Kinser, in their twenties.  Some were angry at those responsible for putting Jeff in a sprint car.  Times have changed.  Kyle turned 21 this summer.  That’s hard to imagine, because it seems he’s been around for some time.
In comparing the two, one thing stands out.  Both were not born with a silver spoon.  What they have accomplished has come by way of talent.  No amount of money can make a driver do what they’ve done.  When Jeff was traveling and racing sprint cars, he and stepfather John Bickford could be found sleeping in the pickup on occasion.  And while it’s been a while since I’ve conversed with Jeff, at last check, these two are as modest as it comes.  That can usually be traced to one’s upbringing.
Our comparison of the two covers primarily their open wheel careers prior to age 21.  Jeff Gordon is a four-time NASCAR champion since then.  It’s apples and oranges to bring Kyle onto that level right now, but he is headed straight for it!  There is no denying that.
Jeff had a great open-wheel career, but one look at Kyle Larson’s accomplishments the past two seasons alone will make the most hardcore fan dizzy.  Just putting the enormity of the wins together requires a break and a deep breath.  It really is mind-numbing.  With and without a wing in 410’s, 360’s and midgets, he has won on the biggest stages.  What is truly awesome is, like Stewart, you are liable to see him back at your local dirt track any moment!
Early On
By the time Jeff was six years old, he had won 35 karting main events running out of his hometown of Vallejo, California.  In 1981, at the age of ten, he was a mind-blowing 25 for 25 in karting.  By the time he was thirteen, Jeff was ready to get into the sprint cars.
Kyle started “late” in the karts at age seven, but he won his first race at eight, and by the time he was sixteen and ready to get into the sprint cars, he had twenty-six championships.
Both drivers started in wing sprint car racing.  At thirteen, Jeff was racing with the All Stars in Florida, and he won his first sprint car start at the age of fourteen at KC Raceway in Chillicothe, Ohio.  Progressing into his teens, and now living in Pittsboro, Indiana, he won the Bloomington Speedway (winged) and Eldora Speedway championships in 1988.
Jeff received a financial break with sponsorship from Aussie John Rae that season and went on to win fourteen of fifteen events in New Zealand and Australia that winter.
In 2007, at the age of sixteen, Kyle started running sprint cars.  He was nominated for National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum Rookie of the Year honors in both the 410 and 360 classes…the first driver to do so.  He became the youngest Civil War Series (360w) feature winner ever, in addition to being the youngest to win features at Placerville Speedway and Petaluma Speedway.
Kyle would finish runner-up in Civil War points in 2008, before grabbing his first 410 win in 2009, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in the Golden State Challenge Series.  In 2010, pairing with California legend, Brent Kaeding, he won the Golden State Challenge Championship.  Kyle also kept busy by winning the Calistoga Speedway championship and finishing second at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville (360w).  Oh yeah, we can’t forget he won the Outlaw kart Tulsa Shootout and finished tenth in the Chili Bowl in a midget to start the season!
Gordon in USAC
Jeff amazed race fans by winning his first ever USAC National midget start at the age of 18 in 1989.  Incidentally, he set a one-lap track record at Indianapolis Raceway Park that night.  He went on to win the “Night Before the 500” at IRP and was named the USAC midget Rookie of the Year.
In 1990, Jeff became the youngest USAC National Midget Champion at the age of 19.  He captured both the “Hut Hundred” and the Belleville Midget Nationals that season, and took his first foray into Busch Grand National racing.
The following year would be his last.  He set another age mark, by becoming the youngest USAC Silver Crown Champion.  His biggest win that season was his midget win at Eldora Speedway’s 4-crown Nationals.  Jeff totaled twenty-two USAC wins in his career and received a lot of notoriety because of his young age and the spotlight that ESPN’s “Thursday Night Thunder” brought.
Kyle’s Insane 2011
Even novice fans had heard of Larson by 2011.  He went on to win twenty-two times and was named to the Motor Sports Press Association Open Wheel/Oval track Driver of the Year.  Kyle was also the first to ever win the Hall of Fame’s “Wild Card” Award in all three sprint car divisions – Non-wing, 360 and 410.
Kyle took USAC by storm in all three classes, finishing second in the sprints, third in the midgets and third in the Silver Crown series in his first year.  The highlights of his USAC season in a nutshell are as follows: sweeping all three divisions at Eldora’s 4-Crown, winning the Silver Crown Ted Horn Memorial 100 on the mile in Duquoin, Illinois, winning the richest non-wing sprint car show, the Ultimate Challenge in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and winning the Belleville Nationals.  In addition, in his first pavement starts in USAC’s three divisions, he set quick time.
Proving he could beat the best in the winged business in either 410 or 360 ranks, Kyle became the youngest winner ever of Silver Dollar Speedway’s Gold Cup Race of Champions with the World of Outlaws (Jeff’s best WoO finish ever was a fourth at Bloomington) at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, California.  He also beat the ASCS (360) National Series in Hanford, California and captured ASCS Northwest Speedweek.
Kyle turns it up in 2012
After a bar set so high the previous season, most expected a letdown for Kyle, especially with a busy schedule with the fenders on pavement in 2012.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  Kyle’s win total went from twenty-two to thirty!
Kyle’s first ever stock car/late model race on the pavement at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in February didn’t go too bad.  You guessed it…he won!  All Kyle did in the stock cars in 2012 was win the K&N Pro Series East championship.  It was a nice warm-up for moving into Nationwide this year.
Kyle Larson may be best explained with an early season run he had at the Tulare Thunderbowl in Tulare, California.  Driving Josh Ford’s #73 non-wing 360 sprinter, he won on the preliminary night.  He also won the 410 winged portion in Paul Silva’s #57. 
On the final night, things appeared grim with a heat crash in Ford’s machine.  Never fear!  Ryan Bernal’s #73 was made available.  Kyle started last in the B before driving to the fourth and final transfer.  Starting tail, he would go on to pass everyone again.  His perfect four for four went away with four laps to go in the 410 finale with a blown oil filter seal (while leading).
Another double came at Kokomo Speedway with his first sprint car win there, followed by a midget week win on the same night.  Strapping the wing on again, he won with the All Stars at Ohio Speedweek the first time he had seen either Cannonball Speedway or Wayne County Speedway.
How about a repeat of the $15,000 Ultimate Challenge at Oskaloosa?  Why not?  How about winning your prelim night in your first ever Knoxville Nationals?  Why not?  No problem for the Rookie of the Year at the Nationals.
At Chico in September, Kyle would win both the 360 non-wing feature and the Civil War (360w) race at the Gold Cup.  To prove 2011 wasn’t a fluke, he beat Donny Schatz by a half-lap to win his second Gold Cup in a row.  Add another midget win at the 4-Crown, some more wins, the $10,000 Gold Crown in Granite City, Illinois and oh yeah, the Turkey Night Grand Prix…and tack on a few wins across the pond last winter.
Summing it Up
Kyle started 2013 out in January, winning his Chili Bowl prelim before challenging for the lead on the final night.  The feat itself…to stay with the Swindell’s and compete on the final night…was his alone.  The wins keep coming.  He’s running Nationwide in South Carolina one night, and passing twenty-nine cars in the B and A mains against the Outlaws at Knoxville the next night.  How cool is that?
You see why our perspectives should change.  Many will utter “The next Kyle Larson” in the future.  I for one will not be one of them.  One thing stands out for Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson…talent.  Yes, they both landed in good rides eventually, but they got there with talent.  It’s refreshing and encouraging to see that money only goes so far.  There is still room for the good ones...the good ones have a passion.  And the cream will rise to the top…and in the case of Larson, it’s still rising!

Bill Wright
Bill W Media
Twitter: @BillWMedia
Website: www.OpenWheel101.com