The Logistics Of Larson’s Planned ‘Dirt Double’

Larson
Kyle Larson is planning to attempt a Chili Bowl feat that no driver ever envisioned this week. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

TULSA, Okla. – Anyone who has followed Kyle Larson’s racing career knows that Larson likes to accomplish the improbable. However, no one expected Larson’s latest surprising project.

Larson, who committed to run a dirt late model for Rumley Enterprises at the Wild West Shootout in Vado, N.M., prior to the winter season, announced Tuesday that he’ll also return to the Chili Bowl Nationals powered by NOS Energy Drink this week and attempt to race both marquee events in one day.

The Elk Grove, Calif., native is a two-time winner of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing, earning back-to-back Golden Drillers in 2020 and ’21, but didn’t compete in last year’s event due to concerns over the purse structure. Now, with some of those concerns addressed, he’s making his grand return to Tulsa.

Larson explained in an interview with FloRacing’s Dustin Jarrett on Wednesday afternoon that the logistics of the Wild West Shootout program and its early finishing times over the first weekend of the event got him thinking about the possibility of adding the Chili Bowl back to his docket in a major twist.

“Honestly, really it came down to the fact that Vado gets done so early,” tipped Larson. “I started thinking, ‘Hey, maybe there’s a window where I could get there in time.’ I went back to Arizona for a couple days and I was delivering all my storage bins and Christmas stuff to the storage unit and … in making those trips back and forth, you know, I’m always thinking about racing and got to thinking about that and realized that I might be able to do this.”

That led to a call to Keith Kunz, the car owner who launched Larson’s career into the national spotlight more than a decade ago, after Larson watched Tanner Carrick win Monday’s preliminary feature in one of Kunz’s potent race cars.

“I texted Keith the next morning, and I figured I knew what his answer would be when I asked because I knew that they had extra cars there for the Race of Champions stuff,” Larson said with a faint smile. “Just glad that so far, it’s working out.”

Larson was added as a late entry to Thursday’s preliminary night lineup, as it was the only day prior to Saturday’s Chili Bowl finale that he didn’t have late model commitments at the Wild West Shootout.

To guarantee himself a chance to race in the 55-lap championship A-main, Larson will have to finish inside the top two of Thursday’s preliminary feature. That will put him into the Pole Shuffle, which he’ll likely miss due to the travel time between Vado and Tulsa, but he’d still start no worse than 10th.

Without a lock-in spot, however, there’s little to no chance Larson would make it in time to race his way into the big show. As he stressed, “Vado is my primary commitment,” and he won’t sway from that.

“Obviously I have to lock in probably, just the way the timing and all that is [between the Wild West Shootout and the Chili Bowl]. … It’s going to be fun to see how it goes, though.”

Logistically, the flight time from New Mexico to Tulsa is roughly one hour and 45 minutes. The Wild West Shootout features have been finishing by approximately 8 p.m. Mountain time, or 9 p.m. Central time, where Tulsa and the SageNet Center are located.

Should the Vado checkered flag wave Saturday night close to the time it has been so far, that would leave Larson enough of a window to make it to Tulsa Expo Raceway around 11:30 p.m. CT, factoring in the time zone change. Given that the Chili Bowl finale has gotten going at midnight CT or later in several of its recent runnings, that would allow Larson to compete in the A-main if he’s already locked into the show.

There’s no margin for error, however. Larson admitted it will take “a perfect storm” for this plan to work.

The good news is that he has a flight plan in place to make all this happen. A chartered plan will bring Larson back and forth between Tulsa and Vado over the next 56 hours, giving him a chance to do the unthinkable.

“Royal Jones actually lined me up with a charter company, because I don’t own my own airplane,” Larson explained. “So, I’ve chartered a plane for this week, at least to get me through Thursday. I’ll come back [to Vado] Friday no matter what to race Friday night. I’ll stick around, race the late model Saturday night, and then jam out of here as quick as possible to get to the airport as fast as we can. Hopefully, we’ll be wheels up and back on the ground in time to make it to the building to strap in for the feature.

“That would be the main goal, but everything’s got to go just right.”

If the opportunity to do the “Dirt Double” doesn’t come to fruition, however, Larson is content with his decision to focus on his late model obligations Saturday at Vado Speedway Park.

“I’m hoping everything can just roll smoothly, and if they can just – not alter the program but rush the program along – it would be nice. But again, it all just comes down to me having to lock in on Thursday,” Larson reiterated. “If I don’t lock in, I’m not stressing about it.”

As part of Larson’s quest to race both the Wild West Shootout and the Chili Bowl Nationals on the same night, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion enlisted longtime friend Colby Copeland to bring his (Larson’s) custom seat insert and his throttle pedal from the KL Open Wheel No. 01 to Tulsa for KKM.

Though some might wonder what the thought process is behind that decision, fellow driver and FloRacing broadcaster Clinton Boyles explained some of the reasons why Larson would want some of his own comforts in the KKM car he’ll pilot Thursday night during Wednesday’s Chili Bowl broadcast.

“I don’t think [Larson] has a magic throttle pedal or anything like that, but I do know driver comfort is huge,” noted Boyles. “Anytime you’re just going to go step in a foreign race car … something you haven’t been in or a new chassis that you’ve never sat in before, any way you can be more comfortable is huge. In that regard, Kyle bringing his own throttle pedal is not actually that surprising to me.

“I get to work with different drivers on the crew chief side of things throughout the year, and throttle pedals are something that I feel like every driver has a feel with that they like,” Boyles continued. “Obviously, it seems super simple, but that’s how you feel a car is through the throttle response, the wheel spin, everything like that.

“Any way he can sit in that car and be a little bit more comfortable, that’s a huge advantage. Being comfortable in a race car is the easiest way to go fast.”

When Larson won his first Chili Bowl Nationals in 2020, it was with his own Kyle Larson Open Wheel team, after years of competing inside the SageNet Center with Kunz and co-owner Pete Willoughby.

If he could win with KKM this time, Larson tipped that the victory would be “extra meaningful” for more reasons that just pulling off a feat that few believe could be done in a single evening.

“What would make [winning another Chili Bowl] extra special would be just getting a win for Keith and Pete. That would just mean a lot personally to me,” said Larson. “I was super excited to win that first Chili Bowl, but at the same time, when Keith and Pete came to victory lane to congratulate me … I was tearing up because I was sad that I didn’t get to win with them.

“I hope this all goes well, and it can be kind of storybook or fairytale this week and everything can work out just right for us to get that win with them, but if not, it’s really not a big deal,” he added. “I wasn’t going to be doing anything on Thursday night anyways, and I love to race, so regardless at least I get to go and race and have a good time.

“We’ll just see how it goes.”

Should Larson lock in Thursday, he’ll be set for his 12th Chili Bowl championship feature appearance and his eighth with KKM. His last three Chili Bowl starts, from 2020-’22, came in his own equipment.

This latest feat, should it all come to fruition, would be the first of two major double duty attempts on Larson’s motorsports calendar this season. He’s also slated to attempt both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in May – the most famous two-step in racing.

Every lap of both the Chili Bowl Nationals and the Wild West Shootout this weekend can be streamed live through FloRacing.

Larson

Kyle Larson won two Chili Bowls in his own equipment. Can he take home a third Golden Driller with Keith Kunz Motorsports this week? (Brendon Bauman photo)

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