The performance of Kyle Larson over the past couple of seasons has been spectacular, to say the least. Sprint cars, midgets, dirt late models, NASCAR…Larson has the Midas touch and the steering wheel turns golden at his command.
Superlatives come easily when describing his performance. Larson is a special talent doing special things, particularly when you consider the diversity of his efforts. We simply have not seen anyone do what he has done in terms of variety: small track, big track, stock car, open-wheel car, dirt, and pavement.
But can we pronounce Larson the greatest driver of all time?
“The greatest” is a broad title, and your definition is probably different than mine or the next guy. That’s why historian geeks like me shy away from pronouncing anyone as “the greatest.” A more relevant measurement is “most accomplished.”
“Most accomplished” is far more impactful because it measures someone based on the entirety of their career – their body of work, so to speak. For those who had the most success within their respective segment of racing, this is the definitive statement.
Mel Kenyon is the most accomplished racer in the history of the USAC National Midget Series. Mel’s 111 series wins are overwhelmingly beyond the numbers of any active racer. As a matter of context, among active USAC National midget drivers the leading winner has 22 series victories (all statistics are current as of early July).
Dale Blaney’s 137 wins with the All Star Circuit of Champions makes him the most accomplished driver in series history. As a matter of context, the combined total of the current top-10 in All Star points is 28 series wins.
Gary Wright is the most accomplished racer in ASCS National competition with 127 series victories. As a matter of context, no active ASCS driver has yet reached 50 percent of Wright’s total.
Dave Darland is tops in USAC National Sprint Car action with 62 series wins. No active USAC National driver has yet reached 50 percent of Darland’s total.
Steve Kinser’s amazing mark of 690 World of Outlaws feature wins is, by far, the most in series history. In context, the combined total of the current top-10 in Outlaws points is 515 wins – led by Donny Schatz’s recently-achieved milestone of 300 wins, also a fantastic accomplishment.
You could nuance this data to account for drivers now running another series and other factors. But the irrefutable point is this: The most accomplished driver in every series has put up numbers that utterly overwhelm the present generation of racers. They established a standard that gives every young racer something very significant to shoot for.
Racing is very fortunate at the moment, because we’re blessed with a generation of racers that is exciting, talented, and fun to watch – including Kyle Larson. Larson is on track to put up some phenomenal numbers of his own, as are a number of talented current racers.
But are they the most accomplished at what they do?
Unfortunately, people sometimes grow restless at the mention of the previous generation of superstars. They’re not interested in something that happened 10, 20, 50 years ago; they’re only interested in the here and now. They’re living in “the moment.”
Well, each superstar from the past had lots of “moments.” In their day, they were the baddest of the bad, and it’s silly to dismiss their enormous accomplishments simply because it’s inconvenient.
Interestingly enough, you don’t hear Larson proclaiming himself as “the greatest.” Thus far we’ve heard nothing but respect from him when he is asked to compare his performance against others. He has been almost reverential when speaking of the previous generation of superstar racers, people who inspired and motivated him. (That’s another reason to cheer for Larson; in addition to being a fantastic racer he’s also a good guy.)
As Larson yet again does something extraordinary, it’s only natural to want to elevate him. As it should be. After all, he has absolutely raised the bar in terms of performance and winning.
Instead of jumping into the debate of “the greatest,” let’s just sit back and enjoy the show. It’s a very special time and we’re watching a very special racer.