Defending champion Kyle Larson believes the dirt racing weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway will be better than last year, but the dirt ace is still unconvinced by the idea of racing NASCAR on dirt.
Larson, who has won the biggest events in dirt sprint car and midget racing, appeared on the SiriusXM NASCAR radio show “Dialed In” Wednesday night and stated that he doesn’t think NASCAR competes on a dirt surface should, unless the sanctioning body is willing to remove windshields from the car and use other protection to allow for more traditional dirt racing.
“I think the way I see it is if we don’t take the windshields out, why are we driving on dirt?” Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR radio. “We just shouldn’t be racing on dirt unless we take the windshields out and actually have a dirt race with moisture on the track and are able to produce a real dirt race. I feel like we’re just wasting a bit of time and not giving the fans and competitors what we all deserve.
“So in my opinion, if we don’t take the windscreens out, we can never get Bristol dirty again – which I’m all for not getting Bristol dirty, whether we have windscreens or not. I think the Bristol races are just as great as normal.”
Larson is a two-time Chili Bowl Nationals champion, in addition to victories at the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa. Last year at Bristol, Larson was fourth on lap 53 when Christopher Bell, another notable dirt talent, spun from second place right under Larson’s nose.
Larson’s criticism of the windshield stems from how the track’s surface needs to be prepared in coordination with whether the plexiglass sits in front of the drivers’ faces.
“Because we have windscreens they really can’t make the track as damp and wet as it needs to be,” said Larson, who won ten cup races a season ago. “So they have to dry it out and make it dusty and slippery and stuff like that. And it’s probably going to end up single row on the bottom like last year and eventually take rubber just because we need to have the track dry so we don’t clog the windshields or whatever.
“I don’t know, we’ll see. Who knows? It will be better than last year. I just don’t know yet if it will look like a real dirt race.”
Larson suggested welding rods across the windshield, similar to a dirt-late model he raced at Bristol earlier this month. The Hendrick Motorsports driver noted that the bars acted like a curtain of rock.
“There’s no spindle or heavy auto part going through there,” Larson said. “It’s extremely durable and I don’t see why we couldn’t weld something like that in or clip in temporary poles, whatever it is. I definitely think there is a way to drive without windscreens.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, noted Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that drivers with dirt experience were urging officials to cancel the upcoming Bristol race — just the second dirt contest of the modern era of the sport – without sacrificing a windshield, but after a next-gen test with Truck Series regular driver and dirt racer Stewart Friesen behind the wheel, the negatives still outweighed the positives.
“That would have potential benefits. Ultimately, the windshield is a critical safety component of our cars,” Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Advanced laminate. Really resistant to ingress of foreign objects. Until we can explore the possibility of not using a windshield, (we will) stick with the safety element, which is what we are doing.”
Larson said he understands NASCAR’s position and that safety is critical.
“But like I said, you’re not going to have a real dirt race with windshields, so I feel like it’s kind of lame,” Larson said.
The windscreen replacement at Friesen’s dirt test was chicken wire, according to Larson, who says he was told Friesen had been hit by mud while driving and had his hands stabbed.
“Like they did on the test, yeah, I would have felt unsafe because all they had was chicken wire, so that’s not going to stop them from passing,” Larson said. “So yeah, I wouldn’t have felt safe with what they had to test. But I guess who knows how long they’ve been working on this? It probably didn’t look to me like they worked on it very long as they put chicken wire in it, like maybe at the last minute.
“I feel like if they had been working on this months ago they probably would have come up with something safer to prevent big things from coming into the cockpit. … I think there are a lot of other simpler things they can do to make them safe enough so that nothing but mud gets in the cockpit.”
This pessimism is counteracted by Larson’s expectation of a better overall result on Sunday. After communicating with Steve Swift, who oversaw Bristol’s track prep, and competing in a late model with this year’s slightly different banking configuration, Larson is encouraged to enter the second iteration of the Bristol Dirt Race.
“I really think our races at Bristol will be a lot better this year with the cup car than last year,” he said. “I think if we run at night it will be great for the races. Goodyear has come up with a much better dirt tire so I think it will be more like a dirt race. And I think the dirt fans who will hopefully turn up for the race this Sunday will be happy. I look forward to it. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend. There are still a lot of unknowns, but it should definitely be a good time.”