After dominating the open wheel dirt scene in 2020 across Sprint Cars, Midgets and Silver Crown, Kyle Larson made his long-awaited Dirt Late Model debut over the weekend with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Port Royal Speedway in the Kevin Rumley No. 6. Even after trading open wheels for fenders for the first time on dirt, “Yung Money” did what he has done all year – win.
While people in and around the industry expected Larson to take to Late Models quickly, not very many people envisioned it would take just two races for him to find victory lane against Late Model racing’s best.
One person who didn’t expect Larson to win in his first weekend in a Late Model was Larson himself. After a fifth-place run Thursday night in his debut, his confident rose for the rest of the weekend.
“To be honest, I surprised myself. I definitely didn’t think I would go there and win,” Larson said on “The Bullring” Monday. “I thought if I could make all the features and run in the top-15, that would be a successful weekend. After the first night, finishing fifth but really contending for a top-two or three, if I could start on the front row I felt like I could definitely have a shot to win. It all worked out Saturday night and I started up there with Brandon Sheppard and got the lead early and set my pace.”
While in victory lane, Larson said on the LucasOilRacing.TV broadcast that the win was one of the biggest of his career. He got to celebrate with his family once again while the crowd at Port Royal let their voices be known in support.
The weekend also marked the first time the Rumley No. 6 was on track since the World Finals last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte with Tim McCreadie behind the wheel. He now joins a list of drivers that include McCreadie, Mike Marlar and Jonathan Davenport that have won with the team.
“It was really, really cool. It’s definitely a moment I probably won’t ever forget, being able to hear the crowd cheer as loud as they were. I think just about everybody in that place was cheering me on in that feature, so that was cool. And to be able to have my family there, Owen wasn’t able to be there for that first night, he got there Friday and then it rained out. That was his first Late Model race he’s ever been to and to win and have him stand on the roof was really neat.
“Getting to celebrate with the team, they’ve won some big crown jewels but you can just tell that one was really exciting to them. I’m glad to be a part of it and it’s cool to win in a series that’s as tough as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.”
The acclimation process behind the wheel Saturday was streamlined with the track conditions that were presented at the half-mile. However, the 50-lap distance provided a different challenge for Larson, who normally competes in races ranging from 30-40 laps in the Sprint Car and Midget.
“They’re a lot of fun to drive and when it gets slick, it’s not too different than anything else. They have a lot more grip than Sprint Cars in the slick. They’re just a little longer races so you have to take care of your tires a little bit more. In a 50-lap race like we’ll have at Port Royal in a couple weeks, we’ll get a halfway break to add fuel back into the car and change tires. You won’t have to worry about saving tires quite as much. Slick is slick, and when it is, I think most cars drive similar.”
The triumph marked win number 35 on the season, which has included wins in the Chili Bowl Nationals, the Hoosier Hundred, World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, the All Star Circuit of Champions, USAC, and now the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. In an even more staggering stat, he has just one finish worse than sixth in his last 48 starts and has posted an average finish of 1.8 in that span.
In what’s been one of the greatest seasons in all of short track racing, Larson still feels like he has something to prove.
“It’s been better than I ever thought it would be. In 2012, I won 30 races but it took me 120 to do that, where my winning percentage this year is better than it’s ever been. It’s been really cool to do. After I stopped racing NASCAR this year, I made it my goal to try and prove to everyone that I was there for a reason and I’m one of the best drivers ever.
“I thought I could win a handful and get into the double-digits, no doubt. I didn’t think that I would be at 53 or 54% winning percentage, that’s pretty crazy. I just hope I can continue it. It’s been a lot of fun but it’s not easy.”
While his next start in a Late Model has yet to be pinned down, Larson acknowledged that this past weekend’s event will not be the only time he climbs behind the wheel of the Rumley No. 6. As he continues to chase after wins in a season nobody will ever forget, he looks forward to getting back in a Late Model.
“Port Royal definitely wasn’t a one-and-done. We talked about a ton of other races that would work out with my Sprint Car schedule. We’ll see what those races are as we get closer. I definitely had a good time with the team.
“It’s a different culture, Late Model racing is with everybody having their toter homes and they stay in the pit area each night. We hung out and stayed up until about 4am each night having some fun and having some drinks, and getting to know the other drivers and other crew members was a lot of fun too. I made some new friendships and I’m looking forward to racing some more.”
Click here to watch a replay of Monday’s episode of “The Bullring.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Heath Lawson