RACING

Larson reflects on 2nd chance offered by Philly racing school

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Kyle Larson tried to explain the feeling of his role as the public face of Urban Youth Racing School when a fan — one of many — wanted a second of the 2021 NASCAR champion’s time.

“Yo, Kyle, can I steal a selfie,” he asked.

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Larson accepted the request and smiled, seconds from his day, but a moment from years as part of his role with the Philadelphia-based program that creates running opportunities for minorities.

Larson might seem like an unlikely ambassador following his 2020 suspension for using a slur at an iRacing event that cost him his ride for Chip Ganassi. Instead, he built on his existing relationship with the program and developed it into something deeper: Zoom calls. with students, buying racing simulators, making personal appearances – all the while mending fences with the black community and spreading the message of the UYRS mission statement.

“The trip he was on was amazing,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “We asked him to do a series of things, and he did more than that. For the school to embrace it like they did, this real love affair that exists between the school and Kyle, I think it’s amazing.

Of course, take a look at Larson now: reigning Cup Series champion, hugely popular with grassroots racing fans, a dedicated mentor to UYRS and hey, he even won an ESPY this week for the best driver. Of course, Larson wasn’t on hand to accept the award in Los Angeles — he was racing Wednesday night on the half-mile dirt track at Port Royal Speedway in Pennsylvania.

The entire Hendrick Motorsports fleet of Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman were among a handful of NASCAR drivers who raced on Friday at the UYRS Grand Prix of Philadelphia. The racing team with Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon won the fundraising event.

NASCAR stars teamed up with UYRS students and local personalities on a makeshift track on the property of a Philadelphia children’s museum. The race was held on a small portion of city property, but the few hundred fans, school buses full of children, food trucks and DJs churning out tunes gave the course the party atmosphere that made street racing so attractive to NASCAR.

NASCAR announced its first street course on the Cup schedule this week with a race scheduled for 2023 in downtown Chicago. The Cup Series will take place July 2 against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and Grant Park as part of a three-year deal with Chicago.

“I think it will be a standout success,” Phelps said at the Grand Prix. “Could we have other street classes in the future? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

The Grand Prix – small as it was – provided a window into the kind of young and diverse environment that NASCAR has strived for under Phelps and the rest of the current leadership group. However, don’t expect so many fans in Chicago wearing Allen Iverson jerseys.

“Just look at the crowd. We are a sport every day that is getting younger and more diverse,” Phelps said. “It is exactly what it is. Some of these people are younger. Some are more diverse. But I think it’s just this melting pot of people where everyone feels welcome.

Larson hoped the scene was a taste of what NASCAR could become on race weekends.

“I think NASCAR is working really hard to try to get to this point,” Larson said. “There’s no reason not to. I think events like this are where it starts. It’s probably the first time that many people get behind the wheel of a go-kart. It should be a good intro.

The Urban Youth Racing School was started by Philadelphia native Anthony Martin, who left a career in sports marketing to pursue his love of racing and mix it with a dream of introducing inner-city kids to NASCAR. The school has served over 7,500 students aged 8 to 18 for almost 25 years and teaches all aspects of motor racing, including driving and black racing history.

Before making the short trip to Pocono, Larson had to repay the program supporting him in 2020 and offered him a very public second chance.

“I was able to give back and support them as well,” Larson said.

Larson’s redemptive path has put the school in the spotlight, fueling the UYSR with more determination for NASCAR graduate students.

“Look around, you got a lot of people of color here, and that’s what the goal was,” Martin said. “We wanted people to come here and see, here’s the drivers, here’s what they do, and see it for themselves.”

One thing Larson doesn’t have on his plate is time to dwell on his near miss last year at Pocono Raceway. Larson was about a mile from winning the race when a flat tire denied him a fourth straight Cup win.

Bowman won the race last June.

Larson picked up just one win last season, well past his smash 2021 season where he won 10 times. Larson has crew chief Cliff Daniels back from a four-race suspension after the No. 5 Chevy lost a wheel at Sonoma Raceway.

“Our car was fast,” Larson said. “We need to improve on pit road and improve behind the wheel too, and hopefully we will be in contention more often.”

POCO-NO-GO

This year marks the first time Pocono will not host two Cup events in the same season since 1982. Once a summer mainstay with two 500-mile races on the schedule, Pocono will run a single 400-mile sunday. Pocono moved a race to World Wide Technology Raceway, nestled just across the Mississippi River from Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis.

Phelps said moving one of the races “wasn’t lucky for Pocono”, but the series simply embraced ambitious schedule changes – like its pre-season race at a track inside the Los Angeles Coliseum. But Pocono wasn’t necessarily leaving.

“I’m not suggesting they would go off schedule, I’m not suggesting anything,” Phelps said. “But I think the opportunity to expose our races to a different market is important. I think we will continue to look to do that by following our schedule. is successful.

TRUCK CHAMPION

The Truck Series holds its regular season finale on Saturday. Zane Smith, John Hunter Nemechek, Chandler Smith, Stewart Friesen, Ben Rhodes, Ty Majeski, Christian Eckes and Carson Hocevar clinched places in the 10-driver field. Zane Smith needs just two points to clinch the regular season crown.

The Xfinity Series also runs Saturday at Pocono. Sage Karam runs in Pocono for the first time since his involvement in a fatal 2015 IndyCar wreck at the track. Justin Wilson died from injuries sustained during the race.

TIPS

Kyle Busch, still in the race without a contract for next season, is a 7-1 favorite to win for the fifth time on Sunday at Pocono, according to FandDuel Sportsbook. Busch took an 8.654-second victory over Larson in the second race of the Pocono twinbill of last season. He led a total of 522 laps in 34 career Cup Series starts at Pocono and average track finish 15.1.

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