Kyle Larson: Sprint car racing has received “a bad rap”

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Last Saturday’s Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park was the latest in a string of tragedies for sprint car racing that has stretched over the last year and a half.

Among those tragedies: Two people being killed in March 2013 when a car careened off track and into pit road; the death of NASCAR veteran Jason Leffler at a New Jersey track in June of that year; and the August 2013 death of hall of fame sprint car racer Kramer Williamson, which came one day after he was injured in a crash in Pennsylvania.

NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie phenom Kyle Larson first made his name in sprint car racing, and today at Michigan International Speedway, Larson said that he wasn’t happy with how the sport has been portrayed in recent times.

While saying that he offered his thoughts and prayers to all involved in Saturday’s tragedy – particularly the Ward family – Larson also asserted that sprint car racing has received “a bad rap.”

“Sprint car racing is awesome – it’s some of the best racing you’ll ever see in your life, and over the last couple of years, with all the stuff that’s gone on, sprint car racing’s gotten a bad rap,” he said.

“I just wish, you know, ESPN and stuff could go play highlights of the Knoxville Nationals that just happened this weekend and see how good the racing was there, how good it is every weekend – they race three, four times a week and the racing’s great.

“I just wish, rather than it being where everybody talks about how dangerous it is and you’re stupid if you run ’em and stuff, I just wish you could see the good parts of it.”

Larson himself said that he would like to continue racing sprint cars in the future. While his Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series duties have largely kept him from doing that this year, he said that he’d like to get in some sprint car events either during this off-season or next year.

“I enjoy doing it, and hopefully, I can do it the rest of my life,” he said.

As for the Stewart/Ward incident, Larson felt it was tough for him to have an opinion on it since he wasn’t there and he had never been there before.

He added: “There’s only one guy that knows what happened – or two, and one’s not here anymore,” a reference to Stewart and the late Ward, who was laid to rest yesterday.

However, Larson believes that after Saturday’s fatal crash and with the immediate onset of NASCAR’s new rules regarding driver protocol in the event of on-track incidents, drivers will think before letting their emotions get the better of them.

Ward was fatally struck by Stewart’s car after walking down the racing surface to apparently confront him following an on-track tangle between the two.

Said Larson: “I’m sure everyone of us has, at least one time in our careers, done something on the race track where we’d get out of the car, and we’d look back and think, ‘Should’ve thought twice about it.’

“I think a lot of people now are going to learn after seeing that video or hearing about it. We’re all gonna think twice and if we’re upset with somebody, we’re going to think about it before we get out of the car…It just really sucks that it all happened.”

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.