Kyle Larson took home the win at the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Sunday by a 1.48-second lead with his #42 Target Chevrolet, becoming the first Asian American to win a NASCAR top series.
“It feels like a big relief to get that out of the way,” Larson, 24, told Kore, days after his winning of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. “I’ve been so close a handful of times before, so to finally close it out and get the win was really good.”
The victory has been a lifetime in the making, and that’s not an exaggeration. The now-famous story goes that Larson’s father Mike, upon first laying eyes on his newborn son, declared him a future race car driver. Larson was barely two weeks old when he was taken to his first car race, four when he took up go-karts, and seven when he entered his first go-kart competition.
The sport’s a family event. As Larson’s racing career blossomed beginning in his early teenage years, especially when he took up sprint cars at age 14, Mike would write post-race articles and press releases while Janet, Larson’s Japanese American mother, managed her son’s website, documenting his every moment.
“I remember a lot of my races [from when I was a kid], because I can relive those moments through the videos [my mom took],” Larson said. “I had a lot of fun growing up racing from a young age. My parents just wanted me to have fun and do a good job. It’s good to win, but the biggest thing was to have fun.”
Well, good things happen when you’re having fun – from 2012 to 2015, Larson has nabbed both championships and awards, from winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the Turkey Night Grand Prix to being crowned Rookie of the Year by the Sprint Cup series in 2014 and the Nationwide Series in 2013.
“Racing is not a job,” Larson said. “It’s what I love to do. It’s a hobby and I get paid to do it. Nothing keeps me from racing. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
That may well pass on to his not-yet-two-year-old son Owen, who Larson says he and his wife have taken to the race track “just about every week of his life,” much like his father did with him. “It’s kind of like our second home, and he has a great time,” Larson said. “He loves race cars, and he loves making race car noises, wiping down the car and helping push it through the garage.”
What of the distinction of being the first Asian American to achieve the win? “It’s cool to be the first to do anything,” Larson said. “When I’m out on the track, I don’t think about being the first anything. But I do feel like I had or will have a small impact in growing this sport of NASCAR and getting more Asians to come out to races or to watch it on TV.”
Next is the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a 10-race playoff that begins later this month. “I feel less pressure because we got that first one out of the way,” he said. “You can’t get overly excited because there’s always another race. I’ve just got to hopefully continue to win, and hopefully do a good job.”