Photo by Dustin Long

Kyle Larson helps give Boys & Girls Club kids smiles, presents

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The noise carries through the closed doors. Laughter, shouting and squealing.

The sound is tempered when the children are aligned and head into a rec room with pool tables, air hockey tables and couches. They are told to be quiet to hear the guest. Then the noise rises when Kyle Larson unveils a variety of gifts, on behalf of sponsor Target, to the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Charlotte.

Wednesday’s visit by Larson is part of a year of charitable efforts he and Target have focused on children. They provided toys to those affected by floods in Southern Virginia, delivered backpacks and school supplies in Darlington, South Carolina, and visited two Dallas schools to donate gift cards and books in support of Texas Motor Speedway’s Speeding to Read program.

As a father — son Owen turns 2 on Dec. 22 — such causes have extra meaning for Larson.

“With having Owen, it gives me another respect when I come here to do things like this,’’ said Larson, who was joined by Owen and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet.

Kyle Larson signs an autograph for a child at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday. Larson and Target presented the Charlotte, North Carolina, club with toys. (Photo: Dustin Long)
Kyle Larson signs an autograph for a child at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday. Larson and Target presented the Charlotte, North Carolina, club with toys. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The club that Larson visited is one of eight in the Charlotte area that provides a safe place for children to play.

Will Johnson, a front tire carrier for Larson’s team who also helped pass out gifts, attended such a club from ages 7-14 when growing up in Charlotte. He still talks about meeting members of the Harlem Globetrotters when they visited his club years ago.

For Larson, being around children is special because of Owen.

Larson admits parenthood provides something new every day.

“Owen knows words and stuff, but he gets so wrapped up in one word that he kind of get obsessed with it,’’ Larson said. “Water and balls and have been his favorite things to say. Over the last couple of weeks he’s really been starting to repeat a lot of words that we say. He’s learning a lot. Not too long he’ll be saying sentences.’’

Larson, who is 24 years old and coming off his first season competing in NASCAR’s Chase, said having Owen has helped him.

“I think it helped me grow up faster, kind of mature quicker,’’ Larson said. “I don’t play video games anymore, I wake up early, go to bed semi-early. You find a whole new responsibility level taking care of this child.

“You’ve got to learn a different language. I feel like I’m bilingual now. I can speak baby and interpret what he’s trying to tell me.

“Everybody says that first year is a lot work and it is but it is easier. When they turn a year old, it’s like gosh, I don’t know if I have enough energy for this. He’s got a ton of energy.’’

Owen will be busy with his family this holiday season. They’ll go to California for about a week and Larson will compete in an outlaw kart race before heading to Australia to drive in four sprint car races. He’ll return to the U.S. to race in the Chili Bowl in January. He won’t drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He anticipates running about 25 sprint car races in 2017 along with his NASCAR duties.

“It’s my relaxation, my vacation,’’ Larson said of racing on dirt.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson involved in minor fender bender while leaving Fontana

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Kyle Larson‘s spectacular weekend at Auto Club Speedway — winning both Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup event — left him feeling good.

But shortly upon exiting the facility, Larson and several others were involved in a fender-bender right outside the Speedway. Larson was a passenger, not the driver.

No one was injured, Larson tweeted.

But somehow, isn’t that strange fate?

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s Fontana win shows continued maturing as a driver

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Kyle Larson finally broke his streak of three straight runner-up finishes with his win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed his win as well as his maturation as a driver.