Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – ALFORD, MA – Last season, Ryan Larkin found the love of racing again. In 2021, he wants to make history.
Larkin, who returned to the sport at the end of the 2019 season in a part-time capacity at Lebanon Valley Speedway after a few years away, competed full-time in the Sportsman division during the pandemic-plagued 2020 campaign and enjoyed some success.
He was able to visit victory lane on August 8th and finished just 26 markers away from winning the points championship, placing third in the final tally.
“When I came back to run in 2019, those couple of events really made me miss racing,” Larkin said. “Last year, we had a lot of fun and I can tell you, I learned more about racing in that class then I have in my whole career.”
What type of things did he learn?
“Sportsman is all about having equal power as your competitors,” he said. “You really have to understand corner speed and how to make your car handle. It’s not all about what’s under the hood.”
With the success he enjoyed last year, the itch is back in big way for the Alford, MA native. For 2021, Larkin and the Clark Excavation 39 team will be making the step to the 358-Modified class at the Valley with sights set on putting another mark in the history of the track.
The team has been hard at work this off-season freshening their 2018 PMC Chassis machine with a new powdercoat, new tinwork and rebuilt parts. However, what’s under the hood?
“My dad and I got talking late last year about what we wanted to do this coming season,” he said. “I texted Brian Madsen (co-owner of Madsen Motorsports) for the hell of it. I wanted to see if he had a 358-Modified engine for sale.”
To his surprise, the answer was yes.
“Brian gave us a really good deal on an engine,” he said. “So, we bought it. Then, a few weeks later, we bought another one. We just feel that if we’re going to take this program seriously, we can’t have just one bullet in case we run into an issue.”
Both powerplants are currently being cared for by Mike Petrucci of Petrucci Competition Engines. They will be dyno’d ready to go when the season gets underway at the Valley with practice in late April.
Of all the classes that Ryan has ever competed in, he’s visited victory lane, except for the 358-Modifieds. He’s won in Big Blocks, Open Sportsman and Pure Stocks at the Valley. As stated earlier, last year, he etched his name in the Crate Sportsman record books with his victory. He’s even grabbed a win during his career in the go-kart ranks.
Now he wants to visit victory lane in a same division that his father, legendary driver Dickie Larkin, had a great amount of success in.
“I really want to win a race with the 358-Modified,” he said. “I like the class a lot and have had some success in the past. However, we’ve never gotten that elusive checkered flag.”
Larkin recalls racing during the old Kings 200 Weekend at the Valley where he had what was, at the time, a career-type evening.
“I will never forget back in 2005 during the Race of Kings,” he said. “We set fast time in time trials. Brett Hearn was right behind us and then we went out and finished sixth in the feature.”
That led to another big moment in Larkin’s racing career.
“That good run gave us a guaranteed starting spot for Super DIRT Week at the Mile,” he said. “Running that event was one of the best experiences of my career.”
Now, he wants to get that feeling back and wants to take home that elusive 358-Modified win.
“I’d be happy this year with being competitive and hopefully getting to victory lane,” he said. “Our goal is just like we had going into 2020. We want to have a good time, run well and try going after the championship.”
Larkin is hopeful that he’ll be able to accomplish this for his team, his sponsors and his family who have all been behind him since day one.
“We’re all working really hard to build up a good, quality racing program here,” he said. “From my dedicated crew, our great sponsor support to my family who’s been there since the beginning, I feel like we have the tools in place to make this happen. I can’t wait for the season to get going.”
Heading into 2020, Ryan Larkin had high hopes for his return to racing. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, he wasn’t able to share that excitement with the fans in the stands at Lebanon Valley.
This year, he’s hoping that, with a little bit help from “Lady Luck” and the great support he has behind him, he’ll be able to rekindle the same magic that’s allowed him to stand on the frontstretch at Lebanon Valley, checkered flag in hand, many times before.