Auto racing is a sport that separates itself from other sports in more ways than one. A primary reason it is so outside-of-the-box in comparison to others is that there is virtually no way of practicing or improving one’s skills. A basketball player can shoot a thousand shots, a football player can run a thousand routes, a baseball player can go to the batting cages for a thousand hours; meanwhile, a race car driver can do nothing besides wait for the next race. In racing, what makes a racer better than the next has been a constant source of speculation, and it has long been attributed to an intrinsic ability that one is either born with or without. A phrase long associated with racing has been, “You either have it or you don’t.”
However, the racing world has come face to face with a phenomenon in the past couple of years that has countered this philosophy. That phenomenon’s name is Kyle Larson. No human being since the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan has dominated the professional levels of a sport quite like Kyle Larson has over the past few years. After a season with 42 wins in 82 races and an average finish of 3.2 in divisions that are considered by racing fans as the most competitive and talent-filled in the world, a question has risen from the depths from racers and fans alike …
Why is Kyle Larson so good?
What does he do so differently from the next top driver on the track that makes him so much better than the rest of the race car drivers in the world? The answer lies in his skill, his experience and, most of all, his spirit.
Obviously, Larson’s raw talent and immense ability behind the wheel is a primary contributor to his lofty status. To watch him is to watch unbelievable precision and an out-of-this-world intelligence symbiotically working together to form a perfect balance of fearlessness and consistency. Larson is not the least intimidated racer on the track — there are plenty of drivers that show less fear than him. And Larson is not the smoothest on the track — he has said himself that long-time teammate and friend Christopher Bell is a smoother race car driver than him.
Nevertheless, “Yung Money” has combined both archetypal driving styles to design his own, as if his talent is his own style of painting. With a stroke of red paint, his aggression is encapsulated. With a stroke of blue paint, his patience is embodied. The California native’s skill is a purple masterpiece, while everybody else seems to either be red or blue.
Larson is able to call upon his skill whenever he chooses, knowing the exact points to stomp on the throttle and when to ease his way off of a turn. A fan in the bleachers will never be able to find Larson following the same line as the person in front of him. The legendary Larson never plays defense on the racetrack; he is constantly in attack mode and on the prowl for any ounce of grip he can find to chase down the racer in front of him. This is one of many examples of his attentiveness and intelligence, as he simply knows what to do with the momentum that he finds on the track.
A moment is never wasted with Larson — he dedicates every thousandth of a second on the racetrack to either pursuing or analyzing the track’s surface. Take it from somebody who has gone door to door with the phenom on several occasions: World of Outlaws winner and Pennsylvania Posse member Ryan Smith says, “Kyle is always one step ahead. He sees the moisture on the track before anybody else can, that’s his greatest advantage. It’s not about him not making mistakes, it’s [about] how much better he is at responding to his mistakes and the track conditions.” Larson’s unmatched skill may be the eighth wonder of the world, even to his contemporaries.
Mastering anything takes an extreme amount of experience, and Larson certainly has that in his repertoire as well. It cannot be denied that he races more than just about anyone. Free from committing to any series last year, Larson raced nearly every day of the week in 2020. The World of Outlaws Series ran about 65 races last year, the USAC midgets only ran about 40 and the All-Star Sprint Car Series solely consists of a 50-race schedule; Larson dabbled in all three, competing in 82 races by the end of the year. When a driver is racing almost every night, it is that much harder to get them out of their groove.
On top of that, when Larson isn’t behind the wheel of an actual car, he’s behind the wheel of a virtual one. Larson is an avid iRacing driver as well and describes virtual simulation racing as something that has amplified his talent to what it is today. Yung Money’s entire life revolves around driving some sort of race car; he quite literally spends every moment of the day indulging in the racing universe in some way, shape or form. This has allowed him to become a maestro and savant of anything racing-related due to his countless opportunities to be versatile and race so often in a wide variety of race cars.
With practice makes perfect, and Larson definitely has a lot more “practice” than most of the drivers he competes against. Given his vast schedule, the 28-year-old superstar has little to nothing to lose as well. If something happens to him in one race, Larson is always prepared to bounce back by the next day and is therefore always on the offense in every race he competes in. While it’s safe to say that he is in his prime, all racing competitors are in huge trouble if he isn’t yet.
The unmatched spirit of Kyle Larson
Let’s take it a step further. While one can only ponder why Larson dominates at such a high level, I believe that his spirit marks the true separation between him and most other drivers. In racing, fans will rarely see self-awareness from their favorite drivers. It is beyond common for a racer to blame any sort of shortcoming on the car, the track or another driver. In Larson’s case, there are zero examples of him blaming anything on anybody other than himself. The level of self-awareness he displays is unheard of, and with every post-race interview, this becomes more and more evident. He is harder on himself than anybody could ever be and he has built up his philosophy to never be satisfied with anything other than complete and total domination.
Another dimension of Larson’s spirit that I’ve noticed is his ability to recall nearly every turn of a race. His mind is very analytical and allows for him to be more methodical and conscious than other drivers. His memory seems to be close to photographic, as he can explain his thought process from every moment of the race. Many other drivers are mostly mindless and consumed by the adrenaline of speed and chaos. In comparison, Larson makes it sound like he just finished playing a game of chess. Similar to how LeBron James can give the audience a play-by-play of an entire game, Larson is aware enough on the track to deliberately choose what he’s doing at every given moment. He is always driving the car — the car or track is never in control of him.
Larson’s genuine love for the sport is evident, and his nature as an analytical man full of self-awareness combined with an undying pursuit to improve with every lap is beyond all else what separates him from the next guy on the racetrack. While other drivers claim that they live with these mindsets, Larson actually does. When attempting to solve the great equation of why he is so incredible, look no further than the insight into his spirit.
So, in an attempt to answer my earlier question — why is Kyle Larson so good? — I believe that the recipe for his talent lies in the mixture of his powerful spirit and the skills he has manifested through his uncontested passion, intelligence and experience. Larson is hands down the greatest driver in the world and perhaps in the history of auto racing. Watch out for him this year as he takes his talents back to NASCAR behind the wheel of the #5 Hendrick Motorsports machine. If you are not interested in racing at all, I promise that he will be the man that makes you interested.
If you still don’t believe me, see Larson’s unbelievable talents for yourself: