AUCKLAND, N.Z.—For Kyle Larson’s adventures down under, relaxation comes first—racing second.
That’s not to say that when Larson straps into a midget representing Team USA in five additional events over the next week that his killer instinct won’t kick in.
But the opportunity to visit one of the most scenic countries in the world is not lost on the 26-year-old racer.
“I pretty much spend this trip as a vacation and with some racing thrown in it,” Larson said. “We were down at Queenstown, which was really neat. It was my first time down there (on the South Island of New Zealand). It was really pretty. Got back here to Auckland a few days ago, had Christmas at Harley Taylor’s house, who I race for here (Taylor Automotive). Had a great dinner. Then go racing.
“Pretty much every off day we’re going to do something to enjoy our time here.”
And that includes not worrying about the recent news surrounding Ganassi Racing sponsor DC Solar and CEO Jeff Carpoff, whose home and offices were raided by the FBI last week, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.
Other than reading about the reports, Larson wasn’t up to speed regarding the situation and how it might affect the relationship with the No. 42 Cup or Xfinity cars next season. DC Solar served as the primary sponsor for 13 of Larson’s 38 Cup races and four of the six Xfinity events he competed in this year. The company also had signed on to support driver Ross Chastain's Xfinity Series program in 2019.
“I don’t know,” Larson said. “I’ve been here since all that went down. I haven’t talked to anybody. I don’t really think they have a lot of information on it. I’m sure, when more details come out, we’ll all learn more about it. But I have no idea about what’s going on.”
Regardless of the uncertainty back home, there is no denying Larson's burgeoning popularity among the Kiwis. At every turn, young fans and old are sporting Larson apparel.
“Yeah, it’s neat,” Larson said. “The New Zealand fans are really accepting of all the Americans but I think since they can watch NASCAR on TV over here, it makes me a little more popular than the rest of them I guess.
“It seems even odd, I feel like Christopher is a huge deal in the States but not yet here as much in New Zealand. It’s cool though. We bring T-shirts here, merchandise—even though it’s all stuck in Customs right now. But I love coming here. Everybody is so nice. The fans are great. The racing is fun and there are lots of things to do.”
Larson raced for Taylor last year in New Zealand, so there is some familiarity with the midgets. The chassis and engines are the same as what he runs with Keith Kunz Motorsports—only the shock package is different.
On Wednesday, Larson finished second to Auckland native Michael Pickens in the Boxing Day Bash feature at Western Springs Speedway. He finished third in the Team Race behind Tyler Courtney and Australia’s Brock Maskovich. Team USA—featuring Larson, Courtney and Logan Seavey, who subbed for Christopher Bell following Bell's wreck earlier in the day, won the first round.
The International Midget contest moved to Baypark Family Speedway on Friday for the South Pacific Midget 40-Lapper in Tauranga before returning to Springs Speedway on Sunday.
But Larson’s greatest challenge of his trip so far? Climbing Roy’s Peak in Wanaka on the South Island.
“It was a really cool hike, but it was much more than I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “It was literally two-and-a-half hours straight—not walking but climbing up the mountain. The views were great, but my legs are still sore.
“It was worth it. Good exercise. But my legs are still feeling it.”