Chili Bowl Night 1: Kyle Larson shines in father-son racing reunion

Mike Larson sat in his usual seats in the River Spirit Expo Center on Tuesday night, watching the prelim races from the Turns 3/4 grandstand just like he always does during Chili Bowl week.

Except something about Tuesday was very different than normal.

“I hardly ever get nervous, but all day today, I’ve been nervous,” Mike said. “I’ve been clammy all day long. I kept saying to myself, ‘You never get like this!’ I could never just calm down.”

That’s because Mike was the car owner for a vehicle driven by his son, all-around racing star Kyle Larson, for the first time since 2008. Kyle was 15 back then.

After that, Kyle was in bigger cars that required a professional owner and a sponsored ride. So Mike was content to enjoy the races just like he always had — as a spectator.

But a couple years ago, Mike became the owner of a midget prepared by Keith Kunz Motorsports (the team Kyle usually runs for). The arrangement is similar to a Joe Gibbs Racing/Furniture Row Racing relationship in NASCAR, Kyle explained.

Mike hadn’t had much success so far, though. His car made the D-Main the first year it entered the Chili Bowl and then only got to the F-Main last year. Kyle could tell his dad was disappointed.

So this summer, Kyle came up with an idea: Since he was already locked in for the 2018 A-Main (based on his win in the 2017 Race of Champions), what if father and son teamed up to race together?

“I was like, ‘Why? Why would you want do that?'” Mike recalled. “He goes, ‘Because I’m locked in, Dad. And I can get your car in the main event.

“I was touched, really. I’m surprised he even thought of that.”

“Knowing my dad, he probably cried or choked up, at least,” Kyle said. “I’m sure it meant a lot to him.”

There was a significant problem, though. Mike had promised Kunz and co-owner Pete Willoughby he wouldn’t take Kyle away from their stable — and he had no intention of breaking his word.

So Mike told his son if he really wanted to do it, Kyle had to call them and broach the topic himself.

“I didn’t know he made a deal with Keith and Pete to not take me,” Kyle said. “That (conversation) was a little nerve-wracking.”

But Kunz approved it — likely on a one-time basis — and so there was Kyle on Tuesday, racing around the expo center for his dad once again.

The reunion ended with the best possible result, at least for a prelim night: Kyle held off future brother-in-law Brad Sweet for the win as Mike watched from his usual seats before running down to victory lane.

Once there, father and son greeted each other with wide grins and handshakes. Kyle got a plaque for being the winning driver; Mike got one as the winning owner.

Now they’ll go after a Golden Driller trophy on Saturday night. Together.

“On the stage, Pete told my dad, ‘Enjoy this moment, because he’s not racing for you ever again,'” Kyle said with a chuckle. “So I guess I’ve got to take full advantage of it on Saturday.”

It’s easy to see why people love Supercross so much

Ricky Carmichael’s No. 1 tip for a first-time dirt bike ride was pretty simple: Whatever you do, don’t twist the throttle in a panic.

That would cause the bike to shoot out from underneath you, likely leaving you on the dirt and staring up at the sky wondering what just happened.

“If you feel like you’re in a position where you don’t want to be and you’re uncomfortable, just take your hand off the throttle,” Carmichael said. “Got it?”

He said it like five times, so yeah. Got it. No problem.

Except I didn’t get it. In the very first minute I sat on the bike at Angel Stadium, I did the complete opposite of what Carmichael said. I accidentally squeezed the throttle down, gave it way too much gas and almost lost the bike from underneath me.

Oops.

Fortunately, I didn’t lose total control — barely — and Carmichael was a very patient teacher. And it got much better from there. Only a few minutes later, I was making mini-laps on a 70cc bike that was probably a good fit for a 7-year-old. The GOAT ran alongside my ride like a proud papa watching a kid steer his bicycle for the first time.

Then I graduated to a more respectable 125cc bike that had a clutch (shifting!) and I even got enough speed to feel a breeze in my face — an accomplishment by my standards! (I have to be honest, though: Carmichael still had to shift the bike for me on the fly.)

Anyway, that brief ride (full video here) generated my biggest takeaway from a Monster Energy AMA Supercross immersion experience last weekend at Anaheim 1: Dirt bikes are awesome. Holy crap! I wasn’t even good at it, but I already miss it. In the two nights since I got off the bike, I’ve had dreams about riding — and this was after only 15 total minutes of seat time, in which I probably never touched 20 mph.

No wonder people love this stuff. And I can’t even imagine going all-out on a 450cc bike and getting major air time at full speed over a jump — side-by-side with another rider. Insane.

Supercross is an impressive sport, and though I had been to a couple races previously, this was the first time I really got to spend more than a few hours around it.

Here are a few other things I learned over two full days at Anaheim:

They keep the 7,000 yards of dirt buried in the parking lot. What!? No joke — at least at Angel Stadium. Supercross Director of Operations Tim Phend said after the two Anaheim races are over, Supercross will stash the dirt in a giant hole behind the stadium, cover it up with a firmer base layer and leave it for 11 months. Angels fans park on top of it all summer, and then Supercross comes back to dig it up in late December. Oh, and they have to buy the Angels a whole new baseball field each year because they destroy the grass by putting all the dirt and equipment on top of it.

Supercross riders have to be in world-class shape to be successful because of the high cardio stress required during the races. The monitoring devices they wear show heart rates soar into the 190-beats-per-minute range during races and consistently stay at that level through the event. “When we race, you’re red-lined (for maximum heart rate),” rider Cooper Webb said. And that’s mostly due to effort and exertion. Eli Tomac said heart rates increase during a race compared to practice — due to adrenaline and the competition — but that only accounts for an extra 10 beats per minute. Because of the cardio demand, those who aren’t in top shape tend to fade about halfway through the 20-minute main events.

The riders are insanely tough. Ken Roczen had the spotlight heading into the season — deservedly so — after overcoming 11 surgeries and a potential arm amputation to make it back (and finish fourth on Saturday!) after a year away. But while his story was extreme, the attitude toward injuries is not uncommon among riders. Just look at two-time champion Chad Reed, who broke both ankles last year and was supposedly still two weeks away from being cleared to ride before Anaheim. Reed had only been on the bike three times since getting hurt, and returned to not only make the main event (no sure thing, given his injury), but finish 15th on Saturday. I was also taken aback seeing how many times riders would go down super hard and then hop right back up and finish the race.

— Marvin Musquin looked fantastic on Saturday night, but he’s not the championship favorite just yet. It still figures to be a wide-open season in the wake of the dominant Ryan Dungey’s retirement. After all, it was Tomac (runner-up for the championship last year) who appeared to be cruising toward a win when he crashed all alone and failed to finish at Anaheim. He’ll have plenty of good nights ahead, as will Musquin training partner Jason Anderson (who finished second Saturday) and Roczen. It’s a good bet the points will stay close throughout the spring.

— Even though it has a much smaller audience than NASCAR (Supercross averaged a record 343,000 viewers last year compared to NASCAR’s 4.1 million per race), Supercross may ultimately be better-positioned for the future. Supercross has bite-sized races (six-minute heats and a 20-minute main event) that aren’t long enough to get boring, and it has an extremely desirable demographic making up the bulk of its fan base. There were more people under the age of 25 stuffed into a sold-out Angel Stadium on Saturday than NASCAR might get in a month (and so many kids!). Supercross excels at a comprehensive fan experience from start to finish: The pit party (akin to the fan zone) is stellar; the opening ceremonies, with unique videos for each rider, do a great job of building the hype; and there are mega pyro displays set to current music booming through the sound system. Plus, the racing is not only excellent, but it has natural breaks built in for trips to the concession stands (or checking Snapchat, which shouldn’t be overlooked). NASCAR has taken steps in the right direction — with stage racing, for example — but the races are still way too long and there’s still much work to be done on turning the drivers into stars.

Anaheim 1 set to serve up unpredictable Supercross opener

No matter what form of motorsport you’re talking about, the best racing is always the most unpredictable.

That’s why I’m stoked for the AMA Monster Energy Supercross opener tonight in Anaheim (10 p.m. ET/FS1). The fans, media and riders themselves all don’t know what to expect, and the race tonight — as well as the championship — seems the most wide open in years.

Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto had combined to win the last eight titles, but they’re both retired now (Dungey retired in the offseason after three straight championships). The only past champion left in the field is Chad Reed, but he hasn’t won since 2008, has two still-healing broken ankles and is now a privateer instead of racing for a factory team.

So that leaves Eli Tomac — who came oh-so-close to the title last year, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson and — oh yeah, Ken Roczen.

Roczen, in case you haven’t heard, is an early candidate for Best Comeback Story in all of sports for this year. After winning Anaheim 1 last year, he shattered his left arm in the second Anaheim race.

He’s had 11 surgeries since then. Eleven! It would have been an accomplishment for him to ever hold a pencil again, let alone get back on a bike and race.

But there he was Friday, sitting in the annual preseason press conference with a suit and tie and proclaiming himself ready to not only compete — but contend.

Could Roczen actually go out tonight and win the season opener?

“My arm, if it would be fragile and I could barely do a pushup or put any weight on it, I feel like I wouldn’t really sit up here,” he said. “The people my team and I have hired to go through (physical therapy) for months and months, they did a pretty phenomenal job.

“It’s never going to be the same, but it’s definitely good enough to race dirt bikes and, in my eyes, have good strength to handle the bike and do whatever with it.”

That said, Roczen said he will ride with a wrist brace tonight. So how competitive he’ll be is a giant unknown.

Asked about Roczen, the other riders offered restrained praise on Friday. They seem happy for the guy they call “Kenny” to return, but they also aren’t anxious to see him win.

After all, the door is wide open for Tomac to claim his first title, but Musquin and Anderson should be right there as well.

But if Roczen’s arm is truly fixed enough, all of them might be chasing the German on his comeback tour.

 

 

 

Not being able to pump your own gas in Oregon isn’t that bad

You may have seen that Oregon is in the news today after people started making fun of Oregonians who are very against a change in the state’s gas pumping law.

In Oregon (like New Jersey), you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. When you pull up to a gas station here, an attendant comes up to your window, you give him or her your credit card and tell them what kind of gas you want. If you try to get out of your car at the pump and do it yourself, you get scolded and they wave you back in your car (I made that mistake when I first moved here, just out of habit).

But that changed on Jan. 1, when people in Oregon’s rural counties were given the right to pump their own gas.

That did not sit well with some longtime Oregonians, who aired their concerns on the Facebook page of a local TV station.

I’m not going to defend those people, because of course they can pump their own gas with no problem and it’s not the big deal they’re making it out to be.

However, I’ve actually come to enjoy the original law quite a bit in the six months we’ve lived here.

It’s almost like having the option between going into a fast food restaurant to order or being able to use the drive-through lane. Why do so many people use the drive-through? Because it’s more convenient and they don’t want to get out of their cars.

So it’s actually pretty nice when it’s cold outside and you don’t even have to get out of your car to fill up the gas tank. You can just sit there with the window rolled up and look at your phone while someone else does it — guilt-free!

I know it’s lazy to think that way, but it’s actually the law here, so you don’t have a choice anyway (plus, it creates jobs!). Well, until now (in some counties).

Anyway, if you were someone who lived in Oregon for your entire life and got used to it, I can see why those people might be bummed to see it go away.

Fan Profile: Peggy Long

This is part of a series of 12 Questions-style NASCAR fan profiles open to people who select that tier on my Patreon page.

Name: Peggy Long

Location: Huntsville, Ala.

Twitter name: @msudawg7880

Age: 60 – ugh!!

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1962.

2. How many races have you attended?

Too many to count.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Denny Hamlin.

4. What made you a fan of his?

I began following Denny during his rookie year with Joe Gibbs Racing. I had stopped watching NASCAR after the death of my two favorite drivers, Davey Allison and Neil Bonnett. A friend told me, “This new guy is your kind of driver.” I watched his first race and my inner NASCAR spirit was renewed. I love his determination!

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

It’s a toss up between Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski.

6. Why don’t you like them?

I don’t like Logano for wrecking Denny in California. And Keselowski for his treatment of a handicapped child who wanted an autograph at Talladega. Being a special educator, that did not set well with me.  I’ve seen Brad do some great things since, but it still bothers me.

7. What is your favorite track?

Talladega.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Do away with pit road speeding penalties.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Double-file restarts.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Every race. I rock in my recliner more than I yell. In 2016, I hit almost 18,000 steps on my Fitbit during the Daytona 500 — rocking and yelling, trying to help Denny win. It worked!

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Support your driver and the team. Follow them on social media, join the Fan Club and attend those events — especially the Joe Gibbs Racing team events. Go to the tweetups and connect with other fans. Connect with the writers, NASCAR executives, spotters and team members on Twitter and support their work. NASCAR is the only sport that provides multiple ways to participate other than just watching the race. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to experience NASCAR.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I always want to be a part of the team — not a part of the problem. If I believe in you, I will support you.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

On the last day of 2017, I asked you for tips about sticking to New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m glad to take the advice for myself, because I always make resolutions but have a hard time sticking to them. A lot of you said your advice was to not make any resolutions — because then you can’t break them — and suggested if these goals were that important, they shouldn’t wait until New Year’s.

But I’m a very deadline-oriented person, so I tend to put things off until there’s a reason. So that’s why the start of a new year seems like a good time to make some changes.

There were a couple themes in your advice: Accountability is a big one, because telling others means you create some peer pressure to keep the goals alive. But also people said it’s important to structure the resolutions in a way to where if you don’t live up to one of them during a given week (like not having time to work out), you don’t just completely fall off the wagon and stop doing it altogether.

So I’m going to give you my resolutions now — primarily to be accountable for them.

1. Drink 75 ounces of water per day

I’m terrible about drinking water. When I’m at the track, I don’t want to constantly have to pee — so I don’t make an effort to drink water. I’m not in the habit.

But I know it’s super important for good health, so I’ll give it another try. I’ve tried apps before that help you track it, but the goals are so lofty (100 ounces of water per day?!?) that I typically fail right away and then just give up.

I just downloaded a new app and it lets you set your own goal. I put it at 75 ounces of water per day. That’s still a TON compared to what I usually drink, but it seems perhaps more doable than 100 — and maybe I will be able to have a better shot at keeping up with it.

2. Average 10,000 steps per day

They say 10,000 steps per day doesn’t really do much for your health, but it keeps you from being too sedentary (which can be a real problem for me when I’m sitting at the computer all day).

But if I said, “I will take 10,000 steps every day,” I would fail almost immediately. Instead, I’m going to try to average that amount so if I have a bad day or two, I can make up for it.

That’s going to be a big change for me, because last year I only averaged 5,700 steps per day (according to my iPhone). So this one might be hard.

3. Triple the number of days I work out

Last year, I rode 455 miles on my bike — which was pretty good for my standards. But I only worked out a total of 33 days last year. That means I only exercised on 9 percent of the days! Clearly, that is not a healthy lifestyle (especially for someone who has high cholesterol like me). So I need to improve that, and in a hurry — or I won’t be here for as long as I hope.

I’m going to shoot for 100 days working out this year (“working out” meaning a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise). Hopefully that will help my overall health.

4. One hour every day for correspondence/finances/housekeeping

My biggest weakness in Year 1 of running my own site was failing to stay on top of things like replying to emails and DMs (I still have emails from last March that I’ve been meaning to return), staying organized with finances (tax season is going to be rough) and making improvements to the site/podcast/Patreon page.

Obviously, the top priority is the editorial content (columns, interviews, news, etc.). But I just need to make more time for the rest of it — whether that means waking up an hour earlier or just using my time better.

 

 

5. Keep improving as a person

I have so many faults and flaws, and I need to work on becoming a better human overall. You can’t really ever stop when it comes to that. I need to make sure to recognize my shortcomings and try to fix them where possible. This one is pretty general, but there are too many specifics to tackle just one.

So those are my five. What are yours? If you want to write yours down for accountability as well, feel free to post in the comments section below.

Fan Profile: John Burns

This is part of a series of 12 Questions-style NASCAR fan profiles open to people who select that tier on my Patreon page.

Name: John Burns

Location: Atlanta

Twitter name: @johndburns

Age: 32

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 2004.

2. How many races have you attended?

Approximately 75.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Formerly Jeff Gordon; now Jimmie Johnson.

4. What made you a fan of Gordon?

This is a very interesting story. I’m originally from Jacksonville, and my dad received tickets to the July Daytona race from a friend. I was 20 at the time and I definitely had other priorities for my Saturdays other than going to a NASCAR race. Dad ended up bribing me to go, so I made the trek down to Daytona with him.

We got down to the track and started to go in, but we were immediately looked at funny because we were going through a “normal” entrance and we had Daytona Club tickets. Being new to this, both of us said, “What is the Daytona Club?” It turns out we had suite tickets with access to pre-race parties where food, drinks and live music were among the things we could partake in. I wish we would’ve known that prior to stopping off at the Krystal on International Speedway Blvd.!

We were sitting at a table with a few other NASCAR fans and my dad made a comment asking who was on the pole. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. But to that question, a guy quickly replied, “Shithead.” Dad and I both looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and then I asked back: “Who’s ‘Shithead?'” Turns out back in 2004, “Shithead” was better known as Jeff Gordon.

I absolutely fell in love with NASCAR while at the race. Gordon ended up winning, and so I naturally liked him — but mostly because the guy in the Daytona Club called him Shithead.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Kyle Busch.

6. Why don’t you like him?

I want to like him. He and Samantha do a lot of good things for racing and the community. But gosh, there has just always been something about him when he raced at Hendrick that made me despise him, and I just can’t seem to get over it.

7. What is your favorite track?

Texas Motor Speedway.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Get the CEO of NASCAR to attend more races than I attend.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Keep weekend races versus having races during the week.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Depends how race is going, but it can be frequently.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Make NASCAR races a weekend getaway. I am pretty fortunate to be able to travel around on the weekends and go to roughly 20 races a year. It is what I enjoy doing, and a lot of the reason why is being able to meet people from different parts of the country, have a drink with them and have a great time. I can talk NASCAR all day with someone, so being able to sit at a bar with other fans who enjoy NASCAR just as much — it doesn’t get much better than that.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Never did I think I would become a NASCAR fan, but I was immediately hooked after one race. I love traveling around to races, and I do most of these races by myself — so if anyone is going to a race and would like to have a couple drinks and/or tailgate, I would be open to it.

My real job during the week is the assistant controller of a logistics company headquartered in Atlanta.