Thursday, December 2, 2021

Larson Shares NASCAR Title With Auxiliary Race School

Avondale, Ariz. (AP) — Anthony Martin had left Kyle Larson’s NASCAR championship festivities, raised his arms and said, “We’re the world champions!”

Oh yes, at Phoenix Raceway, the first title of Larson’s career was shared with all who supported him in his return.

Anthony and Michelle Martin, founders of Urban Youth Racing School, a Philadelphia-based program that creates opportunities in racing for minorities, and two students at the track—and they all swept the championship bash.

“I think Kyle can’t be ruled out on or off the track at this point in time,” said Michelle Martin. “We’re talking about reality here. And reality means Kyle Larson.”

Larson used an abuse while racing online in April 2020 and lost his NASCAR ride, his sponsor, his multi-million-dollar contract. He also worried that he had lost his relationship with the children and the school even before he was suspended from NASCAR. The Martins had deep, emotional conversations with Larson and believed that his pain and his apologies were sincere. Michelle taught him a history lesson on racial inequality that spanned 400 years.

“They are a big part of my life now,” Larsen said Sunday night. “I’m glad they were here to share it with me.”

The Martins took their ground as they accepted a driver who some had labeled a racist back in the fold.

“It wasn’t that our community was happy that this was something we did,” Mitchell said. “We also took a lot of shots. One thing I said to Kyle is, if you’re ready to stand firm, we’ll stand firm with you. We just have to stand here and take whatever comes because it’s going to come.”

Larsen rewarded Olive Branch with the Cup Championship, offered by UYRS and Hendrick Motorsports, and renewed dedication to the school. Even as the victories increased and the pressure of the championship mounted, Larsson never lost his bond with the UYRS. Larsen bought the necessary racing simulators for the school and zoomed in with the students on race days. He visited the school without fanfare while he was sitting outside for most of 2020.

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“Second Chance is well deserved for every type of human,” Mitchell said. “They knocked this opportunity out of the park.”

In a sport in which minorities are rare at all levels, Martins made it her mission to introduce the city’s youth, mostly black, to the world of motorsports with the school. The school has served more than 7,500 students aged 8 to 18 over the past 22 years and teaches all aspects of auto racing, including driving and black racing history. UYRS uses a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and students are questioned and graded and competed for various year-end awards.

Larsen was already involved in the program through his relationship with UYRS partner Chevrolet and in 2019 attended a year-end banter.

“You have to understand what he went through,” Anthony said. “We were there from day 1. Believed in him. See how down he was. We saw him go through all this. And then go through all of that and win the championship?”

“I’m like a proud mom,” Michelle said.

The Martins had an instant bond on Sunday when they first met Larson’s parents, Mike and Janet. Larson told Martins how much he appreciated her role in Larson’s personal development.

“Kyle talked to him about us. They knew,” Anthony said. “It was love.”

The Martins mingled with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon on the track and then watched from the pits as Larson crossed the finish line first and fluttered down confetti.

“It makes me feel really special that they were here today and got to enjoy all the festivities,” Larsen said.

It was a moment that seemed hard to imagine when this journey began.

“You get through all of this and then eventually we’ll see where we really stand and see where we are,” Mitchell said.

And she liked where she stood on Sunday night.

She added: “In the race for the championship, because Kyle is a champion!”


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