Last September, Mike Larrison was preparing to run at Las Vegas for Andretti Autosport in what would have been his debut in Firestone Indy Lights. That’s when tragedy struck. While testing at Kentucky Speedway, Mike was seriously injured, fracturing both his spine and left heel in the accident.
What followed was a lot of struggle, rehabilitation, and hard work to get back to this moment. Happily, today Larrison stands ready to pilot Belardi Auto Racing’s #19 car at all the ovals on the Lights schedule, in addition to racing at Baltimore. His comeback hasn’t been an easy one, but the young USAC, motocross, and Must See Racing XSS veteran is ready for his next challenge, starting with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 25. He’s getting ready for his big step on the Mazda Road to Indy, but he still found some time to answer some questions for INDYCAR Nation:
Mike, you had a pretty rough accident while testing at Kentucky Speedway last year. I'm sure you don't want to dwell on it, but what has the road back to competition been like for you?
Mike Larrison: I’ll never forget the day of my accident. I was in the track ambulance and I looked at my Dad, broke down, and said, “I’ve lost my shot Dad; I’ll never get another chance.” It wasn’t an easy road back, financially or emotionally. I laid in a hospital bed for 3 months, couldn’t work, or even leave the house. I had a lot of time to think about life, what it is about, and how short it could be. I truly believe this accident has made my determination 10 times what it was. I’ve been through intense physical therapy and personal training. I have more drive now to make my dreams come true than I have ever had before.
You're making your Lights debut at the Firestone Freedom 100, the Series' biggest race of the year. Does that add any pressure for you?
ML: Yes, it absolutely adds more pressure, outside the race car. Inside the race car, once the helmet goes on and I’ve strapped down into the car, it’s just another race and it’s down to business.
How did your deal with Belardi come about?
ML: My deal with Belardi came about through their General Manager, John Brunner. He and I met in 2011, through a friend of mine, Mike Hurst. John helped me out last year and we became good friends. I felt like John has always looked out for me and my best interests. When I found out he was working for Belardi, I realized I would have not only a friend, but a person who cared about what would be best for me.
You're a native Hoosier, born within easy driving distance of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What's it like, getting to compete there for the first time?
ML: Being able to compete over at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a dream for my Father and me since I was a little boy. I feel like my childhood dream is coming true and I am going to enjoy soaking up every minute of it!!
Coming over from motorcycle and sprint car racing to Firestone Indy Lights, what sort of skills transfer over, and what skills need to be learned?
ML: It’s all racing. The mind has the same principal no matter what kind of vehicle you are driving and that’s to win!! Motor Cross doesn’t really have anything to transfer over. As far as the sprint car, it’s basically the same concept as driving a Firestone Indy Lights car on an oval, except twice as much horsepower. My biggest challenge, transferring from the sprint car to the Indy Lights car, is adapting to the sensitivity the Indy Lights car has to change and steering.
What's one thing many casual racing fans would likely never guess about driving sprint cars?
ML: There are actually a couple things people might not likely guess about driving sprint cars. First, an IndyCar was essentially developed from a sprint car years ago. Second, a sprint car is direct drive and has 800+ horsepower.
You'll be contesting Baltimore later this season after ovals such as Indy and Iowa. Is that going to be a change-up for you to go to a street course for the first time in these cars?
ML: Competing on a street course will be a change from what I have been doing the last few years. Before I ran sprint cars, I competed in go-kart racing on road and street courses. I believe that the change-up with the cars may be slightly different, but the skills are similar and I should adapt pretty quickly.
Have you caught many of the FIL races on TV this season so far? Do any drivers stand out to you as particularly tough competition?
ML: I haven’t actually watched a FIL race on TV this season, but I do keep up on what has been going on with the series. I wouldn’t say there is a particular driver that stands out, but the Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars seem like the ones to beat.
Where would you like to see the season lead in terms of your overall goals?
ML: This season I am only running limited races. My overall goal is to run Indy Lights full time next season and then move into IndyCar.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.