It is not unusual to be talking about Kyle Larson’s dirt racing adventures at this time of year. Normally in mid-January the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the NASCAR Cup Series would be coming off a run in the week-long Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, an event he has won on two separate occasions. However, the 30-year-old racer opted this year to skip the contest for a ‘Golden Driller’ trophy held each year in Tulsa, Oklahoma in favor of another multi-day dirt racing affair.
Larson entered the Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout for Dirt Late Model machines held at the Vado Speedway Park in Vado, New Mexico in order to get his winter racing fix. And while he did not win any of the six feature races he took part in while driving a Longhorn Chassis race car for KL Rumley Enterprises, he did make a very respectable showing for a driver who has relatively little experience in that type of car compared to many of those he raced against.
Consider that Dirt Late Model champion drivers such as Jonathan Davenport, Brandon Sheppard, Mike Marlar and Bobby Pierce were among those entered in the event as well as crown jewel winners such as Ricky Weiss, Tyler Erb and dirt racing legend Billy Moyer Sr.
That said, though, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion has taken quickly to this form of motorsports. During the three years in which he has competed on a part-time basis for renowned car owner and engineer Kevin Rumley, he has won on both the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series including major events such as the Prairie Dirt Classic and the Hillbilly 100.
Overall, Larson finished second in the Wild West Shootout final standings behind Davenport and ahead of Pierce. Three second-place feature race results provided the high water mark with a worst finish coming in the third race of the mini-series when he took the checkered flag in the sixth position.
Larson let be known after the finale on Sunday night(where he finished second to Pierce) that he had enjoyed his time in the desert southwest.
“That was the most fun Late Model race I’ve ever been a part of,” he declared. “There was more lead changes in one race than there is all season. That was a lot of fun, literally, from start to finish it was a battle between Bobby and J.D. and Marlar and Stormy(Scott).
As a matter of fact, Larson enjoyed it so much that he plans to come back to Vado for the 18th annual Wild West Shootout in 2024.
“What a race,” Larson repeated. “What a week of racing. It was so much fun. I definitely can’t wait for next year. This was more fun than I anticipated. I’m sure with all the races we’ve had night in and night out the crowd is just going to continue to get bigger. It has grown throughout each night. I wish we would have gotten to victory lane once, at least. I don’t even know if I ever led a lap but we were right there for a lot of them. What a fun race.”
Kyle Larson in the No. 6 Late Model
Even with those three runner-up finishes, perhaps Larson’s most impressive run was registered on Friday night when he came home fourth after taking the green flag in the 20th spot. A disappointing heat race forced the No. 6 car into a B-main, which he won. Then, in just 30 laps, he charged from deep in the field to a top-5 finish.
Mesilla Valley Transportation co-founder Royal Jones, who also owns Vado Speedway Park, was obviously excited to have had Larson at his track for just over a week.
“These guys are pretty amazing,” Jones said of the racing in the Super Late Model division. “I’m so proud to be able to bring them here and have this kind of racing. Kyle Larson coming out and blessing us with his presence. Has there ever been anyone better than Kyle Larson? I mean he takes it all, he can do everything and now he’s going to run the Indy 500.”
Larson will doubt race on dirt many more times in 2023. And of course, the NASCAR season is slated to begin on February 5th in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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