The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing. I spoke to Larson at Bristol Motor Speedway. This interview is available as a podcast and is also transcribed below.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I would say up until I got to NASCAR, it was probably all natural and I didn’t have to work at anything. But once you get here, it’s really tough and everybody else is working hard, so you have to at least do what they’re doing to try and become better. A lot of that is studying. I still don’t really work out, but I try to do that a little bit. So it’s become more of having to work for it when you get to this level, but still natural ability takes over everything else.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I’m very similar to — I guess all of them kind of have an open-wheel background, so I got that going for me. I’m kind of a throwback racer where I’ll race anything as long as I’m allowed to, and I would love to race every day of the week if I could. So I would say I’m one of the only real racers left out here. So that can be my pitch, that I’m the last true racer.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
It’s probably that our season is so long and our weeks are so short. There’s so much stuff that you want to get done during the week and it’s hard to accomplish all that. There’s lots of times where I see what my friends are doing, and I’d love to be doing what they’re doing, but our weekends are kind of our weekdays and our weekdays are weekends, where it’s opposite of everybody else in the world. I would say that part of it is probably the toughest part.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
Yeah, as long as our main dish isn’t on the table, I think you can definitely come over. I’m not like a germaphobe or anything, either, so I’m not afraid to shake hands as long as they’re a decent-looking human being. But yeah, as long as our main dish isn’t on the table, feel free to come over.
So as long as the guy doesn’t have flies circling around him or something like that, it’s OK?
Yeah. If it’s not 105 degrees outside, as long as you’re not sweaty and greasy, you can come over and I’ll shake your hand.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think you guys all cover the sport very well — good and bad. There’s some stuff that probably shouldn’t be covered that gets covered. But I wish I would see more good stuff about sprint car racing rather than all the negative stuff (about deaths and injuries) because that’s some of the purest form of racing. All the media kind of covers is the negative, so I wish that we would get more of the exciting part of it and how it develops great race car drivers rather than the tragedies.
The mainstream media doesn’t cover it every week; they see the danger, they see the accidents and then that gets written up.
Yeah, it’s easier to get people to read your posts when you have a title that is touching a negative topic rather than, “Oh, there was an awesome race in Illinois this weekend.” It’s easier to get someone to click on your link when it’s got some negative in it, so I wish there was more positive stuff about the sprint cars.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Probably (Ricky) Stenhouse or Denny (Hamlin). I think we’re actually in a group text about golf, so probably those two.
How’s your golf game?
My golf game is really bad. Those two are really good. Denny shot a 74 (on Thursday), so two over par, and Ricky was five over par, so they’re good. I wish I could be 10 strokes better than I am, but I shot 101.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
I guess we are in a way, but I don’t think of myself as an entertainer. I think there are some other drivers that do think of themselves as entertainers. (Grins)
But for me, racing is just my love and my hobby more than anything. I know it’s my job, but I just do it to have fun. But at the same time, I guess we are entertainers where we’re in front of big audiences live at the track and on TV as well. So yeah, I guess we’re entertainers, but I don’t try to entertain outside the car.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I don’t feel like I normally give the middle finger to a lot of people, but if you’re like four seconds off the pace and you’re multiple laps down and you hold me up, you’re probably gonna get the middle finger. Thankfully there’s no good drivers that ever really get the finger, so I would say that’s my middle finger policy. Just don’t hold me up.
So it’s reserved for the scrubs, basically.
Yeah, I guess you could say that.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
You keep a payback list for sure, but you also have a list of guys that you probably don’t race as hard. I think of Matt Kenseth: He’s somebody who’s a veteran and understands give-and-take, and I’ve learned a lot from him of when’s the right time to be aggressive and when not to be.
So you’ve got guys like him where if they’re faster, you just let them go and then they repay the favor later in the race. But when it gets down to the end of it, you can race really hard. I would say most of us young guys are probably not the best at the whole give-and-take thing, but we can learn a lot off of those guys.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
Probably Danica. You know, (Larson and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet) are great friends with Ricky and Danica, so we go out to dinner with them all the time. We probably eat dinner at their motorhome more than anything because she’s a great cook. But it doesn’t matter where we’re at — we could be at the middle of nowhere and somebody recognizes her.
It’s funny too, because they’ll see her and not have a clue who Ricky and I are, so it’s pretty funny. So yeah, I would say she’s probably the most famous person I’ve had dinner with. I know she likes being noticed out in public, too, so it probably makes her feel good that she’s the famous person with us.
Does she ever get free desserts or anything from the waiters?
Yeah, there’s a lot of times when we’ll go to a restaurant and they’ll bring out free appetizers that aren’t even on the menu that the chef wants to cook up for her. So yeah, it has its perks to be friends with Danica for sure.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
Probably staying motivated to do the not-fun stuff of our sport. I guess going back to the work part of it, being motivated for that stuff. You know, I guess when you grow up racing, the racing thing is all you do and it’s natural ability — you don’t have to work at it too hard. But like I said, when you get here, it’s a lot more work and staying motivated to put the effort into being a little bit better is important, and there’s a lot time times I slack off on that. So I would say probably staying motivated to do the business/work part of it.
12. The last interview was with Daniel Suarez, and he wanted to know: If a competitive young driver came to you and asked for advice, how much would you tell him? Would you tell him 100% of what you know, or would you tell him like 90%? How much would you offer?
I always try to be extremely honest whenever anybody asks me anything. And honestly, there’s not a whole lot of people that go around asking for advice. I guess it would be the young guys. At Homestead last year, I felt like half the Truck Series was calling me, trying to get around Homestead because I go really good there.
I remember last Atlanta, I was extremely fast in practice before qualifying because I was running a different line in (Turns) 1 and 2, and Kyle Busch was asking me how hard I would run up there and why I would split the seams and stuff like that. I gave him an honest answer, and he got the pole and I qualified bad.
But yeah, I’m always extremely honest. I think coming from a dirt background, it’s easier for us to be honest — where people who grew up in pavement racing, it seems like pavement racers are more secretive than dirt racers.
The next interview is with Elliott Sadler. Do you have a question I can ask him?
He’s been around, he’s seen it all in every series. I feel like the average age has gone down a lot lately in every series. So how has he seen the style of racing change with the average age going down?
This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!