Gordon and Larson visit Indy 500 practice on Thursday, “In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world,” says Larson, Gordon says Larson is living his dream

INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson both grew up in North California. Both took the same USAC path. Both were wildly successful in doing so. Both also dreamed of one day of racing in the Indianapolis 500. Both paths led them to North Carolina to race stock cars.

Gordon’s path was the right one. 93 wins, four championships and five Brickyard 400 crowns. As much as he wouldn’t like to admit it then, it was the right door to go through.

Larson though is now going to have an opportunity that Gordon could only dream of. Do both. Larson will race in next year’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500. That announcement has already been made. Hendrick Motorsports will bring Larson up to Indy next May to attempt the “double.”

Before we get 12 months from now, Gordon and Larson paid a visit to their team, Arrow McLaren Racing, to take in Day 2 of the Indianapolis 500 practice.

 “It’s obviously very exciting,” Larson said on Thursday morning from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I wanted to be patient and kind of wait for the timing to feel right. It feels right. Having Hendrick Motorsports be extremely supportive of it, supporting the efforts with Arrow McLaren, it’s something that I’m extremely excited about.

“To have Rick (Hendrick) and Jeff Gordon involved. Jeff kind of told me that I get to live out a dream of his. That’s really special also to me.

“I’ve obviously come here a lot in a stockcar. I lived in the area for a couple years. So this place for a long time felt like home or a second home to me.

“In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world, so you want to be a part of the big ones. Hopefully someday be a winner of a big event.

“Look forward to it. Happy to be here today. Look forward to kind of taking in as much knowledge as I possibly can in a single day, just trying to better prepare myself for whenever I get behind the wheel.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 10: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, enters his car in the garage areaduring practice for the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 10, 2023 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Larson hasn’t won NASCAR’s Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, but if he’s going to win INDYCAR’s, it takes a lot of preparation. That’s what brings him here.

“I’m kind of glad that Kyle said, This is something I’d really like to do one day,” Gordon said. “Do you think this is something that Mr. Hendrick and Hendrick Cars would want to support?

“We’re happy that that’s all going to come true in 2024.

“I think for today, it’s such a different world, right? This car. I think as a driver, driving a race car is sort of natural of what you need to go fast, to compete. But you’re talking about Indianapolis at 230-plus miles per hour, what it takes to get comfortable, what kind of language there is for a driver of the types of things that they’re talking about versus a stockcar or a sprint car.

“For us, I think on the Hendrick Motorsports side, it’s building this relationship with Arrow McLaren so that next year we can do everything we can to maximize its full potential, get Kyle everything he needs, to get Arrow McLaren everything they need, to make sure that this effort goes as smooth as possible and gives them the best opportunity to get a great result.

“I did say to him he’s going to be able to live out a dream of mine. I go back to the mid to late ’80s when I was living here in Indiana, raced all around here. Every race car driver’s dream, if you race around Indianapolis, is to get here, to compete at this facility.

“I watched guys like Rich Vogler, a few other competitors I raced with, come over here and do that. Certainly it was on my radar. But NASCAR came calling. Once that happened, I kind of shifted my focus to that.

“I don’t know if really the right opportunity or it ever became serious enough after that to become a reality. So to me, this is equally as exciting because, one, I sure as heck right now don’t want to drive into turn one at 238 miles, whatever they’re running (smiling), but Kyle does. Kyle is capable of it.

“The fact that Rick has never been to the Indy 500, we’re going to go to Le Mans this year, next year he’s going to come to the Indy 500, that’s extremely exciting for our organization, as well as the things we can learn from Arrow McLaren in what they do here to compete for this event. I think there’s crossover we can learn from one another.

“Super excited. Excited for Kyle. As well as he has the ability. When he has the equipment and the resources, the people surrounding him, he has the ability to go do extraordinary things. We’ve seen him do it in other cars. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do that in the Indy 500 next year, as well.”

I asked Gordon if this is maybe the start to HMS joining the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in the future one day.

“I know what Rick’s answer would be if he was sitting here. It would be an absolute no (smiling),” he said.

“He loves racing. He loves cars. When he comes here next year, he might change his mind a little bit. NASCAR is always going to be our primary focus, where our history, our legacy lies.

“I will say that if you want to run a good business, you have to diversify yourself. We’ve seen ourselves get into GM defense manufacturing, we’re seeing ourselves go to Le Mans. We’ve dabbled a little bit in IMSA. We have a great relationship with Chevrolet and our friends at GM.

“If there’s something that makes sense for us as a company, as Hendrick Motorsports, then we’re certainly going to look at it, look at whether or not it makes sense for us or not.”

How much did they look at Larson not coming though too? With two of their four drivers being injured in out of NASCAR circumstances this year alone, was coming to Indy being second guessed?

“I think our approach is that we want to support these guys in things that they want to take on,” Gordon said. “I mean, with Kyle, we’ve had this conversation a lot. He feels like that type of racing actually helps him get prepared and be sharp on Sunday in the Cup car. We’ve actually seen the results of that.

“They have to make good, smart decisions, be in good equipment, not take too much risk when they’re involved in that, whether it’s racing or other things.

“I can tell you I did a lot of extracurricular activities, even if it wasn’t in other race cars, throughout my entire career, and see the benefits of it.

“We’re going to support our guys to do the same. We’re going to encourage them to really weigh out the risk versus the reward and make sure they’re in the best equipment with the best team and the best opportunity to go out there and make the experience a good one. That’s the way we look at this.”

Larson says that not only is this his dream, it’s his dads too. This is the No. 1 race in his dads book which is why it didn’t fall too far to the younger Larson to race here. He feels like his dad may miss half the race next year due to tears in his eyes from being so happy in that moment.

As far as why now, he says that when he was with Ganassi, despite everyone thinking he’d race here, he just wasn’t ready yet. He didn’t feel he accomplished anything yet in NASCAR to merit the focus of doing both. Now, as a 2021 Cup champion, he feels like he’s done enough to try a new venture.

Good thing too. This is going to be a massive story next May.

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