NASCAR star Kyle Larson will be the subject of an in-depth feature on Sunday’s edition of E:60 (ESPN, 9 a.m. ET). The 25-year-old Larson has three victories this season and is second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings.
ESPN The Magazine senior writer Ryan McGee, who has covered NASCAR for more than 20 years, reports that the series’ first Japanese-American driver is considered a “true old-school racer.”
McGee, who worked on the feature with producer and close friend Frank Saraceno, spoke with Front Row:
How difficult was it to get the amount of access you received?
It wasn’t at all and our great access actually started nearly three years ago. That’s when our E:60 big boss, Andy Tennant [executive producer, E:60 and Outside the Lines], participated in the ESPN NASCAR Immersion program and was embedded with Kyle’s team, on the pit crew at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Andy was so impressed with Kyle that the seeds of this story were really planted that week. From there, the folks at Chip Ganassi Racing and Kyle’s family both always opened their doors whenever we called, even when Kyle was stuck in a slump that covered 2015 and most of ’16. When he finally won a Cup Series race and then kept winning, they remained just as cooperative.
His family seems to have a lot of home video from his life – what’s the backstory on that?
Whenever you’re working on a profile feature you go into it with your fingers crossed, hoping Mom and Dad have shot some of the bigger moments on video. When we asked that question of Kyle’s parents, Mike immediately cracked up laughing and Janet turned all shades of red, kind of embarrassed. It turns out Janet hasn’t just shot the big moments in her son’s early life…she’s shot all the moments of his entire life. She has a library of nearly 600 tapes and even more than that, she has kept journals that chronicle every day of his life. If you ever wanted to know what he had for lunch on, say, June 18, 2001, she could tell you. And probably show you footage of it.
What do you think viewers will learn about Kyle that they might not already know?
The story immediately opens with Kyle addressing his Japanese heritage and we look a bit into that background. That’s something he’s always been proud of, but he’s also been wary of people wondering if he’s received help landing good rides or been handed an edge because of his ethnicity. The truth is that he’s moved up the racing ladder via nothing but talent, so much so that I don’t think a lot of hardcore NASCAR fans even realize he’s half-Japanese. As he’s gotten older and had success, I think he’s gotten more comfortable in his own skin, quite literally.