Daytona Beach is a long way from Paragon Speedway, Indiana. It was on the old wooden bleachers of the small Indiana dirt track at a sprint car race that I first met Kyle Larson in the summer of 2011. He looked familiar to me but I couldn't place him. I realized, later on, I had seen him once before at a USAC race I was writing a story about earlier in the year. At the time, I couldn't tell him apart from all the rich kids from east and west coasts who come to Indiana every summer to try and make a name for themselves in racing. As the 2011 season continued to unfold, I would learn that Kyle Larson was nothing like those spoiled rotten kids that I had grown very bored of. I was sitting next to a bonafide auto racing prodigy and future star (with a great smile, I might add).
By the end of the 2011 season, he had made some remarkable achievements, including winning all three races in one night in Eldora. That kind of a night will make any driver a living legend. Only one other driver, Jack Hewitt, was able to do that in the race's 31 year history. He was one of the last people left in the pits that night. He greeted every fan, signed every autograph, took every picture that was asked. I hollered and waved as I crossed the track "Don't forget about Deanna from Indiana when you're famous." I knew he would shoot up to the big leagues fast, and he has. Everyone in Indiana racing knew he had officially hit the big time when Chip Ganassi, stopped letting him race sprint car races like the ones at Eldora which made him a living legend.
It's been a real treat to watch him move from the bull ring sprint car racing of Indiana to the pavement stock cars of NASCAR. As a sprint car fan, I firmly believe that a his NASCAR success will have a way of trickling back down to the dirt tracks close to my heart, like Paragon Speedway. I was anxious to see his Nationwide debut, and it broke my heart to actually see it.
No one will forget his Nationwide debut. 28 fans were injured, some in critical condition, as the entire front of his car was sheered off by the fence at Daytona, sending the engine, flying tires and large pieces of metal crashing into a crowd of fans at well over 100 MPH. It was a freak accident and nothing that could have been prevented by anyone. It has made this first @IndyMotorsports article of the 2013 racing season almost impossible to write. My heart is with the shocked and injured fans, their families, and with Kyle Larson. He made a great run in his Daytona Nationwide debut. He should have finished in the top ten. Everyone should be talking about what an amazing driver this guy is. But no one connected to the race can celebrate tonight. Not even Tony Stewart could celebrate his first NASCAR victory of the 2013 season.