Welcome to Ollies

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

AHOSKIE – With its Wednesday morning ribbon-cutting, Pennsylvania-based Ollie’s Bargain Outlet continued its onslaught on the Southeast greater than Gen. Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’.

The country’s largest retailer of closeout merchandise and excess inventory has now opened 293 stores nationwide with more on the way. The newest location is in the Ahoskie Commons Shopping Center, located off Memorial Drive in the old Wal Mart building.

And, as has become their tradition, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver was on hand for the Grand Opening.

Former 2014 SUNOCO ‘Rookie of the Year’ Kyle Larson eagerly signed autographs and posed with fans as Smartphone cameras flashed away.

At just one week old, Larson made his first trip to the racetrack. A few short years later, he had already set his sights on making trips not just to, but around the racetrack, and has been driving the circuit ever since.

Larson’s appearance showed the four-year Cup driver’s fortitude. Just three days earlier he was disappointingly eliminated from the NASCAR Cup series ‘Round of 8’ with his third-place finish at Kansas Motor Speedway.

The finish ended a brutal week for the Elk Grove, California native which saw his playoff chances take a hit after losing his appeal to NASCAR which penalized him 10 points for his team’s use of unapproved metal tabs while repairing his race car during the Oct. 14 race at Talladega Superspeedway. Adding to the misery, he wrecked his main car in practice, was forced to go to a slower-engine back-up ride, race from the back of the field, and, finally, get passed by second-place finisher Kyle Busch late as both watched young Chase Elliott take the checkered flag.

“It was a good run,” he said, matter of fact, maybe to mask his disappointment. “We needed to get a win, and we just came up a couple of spots short. We did all we could do, we just got passed there at the end.”

With 17 top-10 finishes – 10 top-fives – Larson is still poised to take home a rather respectable check when he walks across the stage at the year-end awards banquet in Las Vegas come December.

“It’s been a good year,” he surmised. “Up and down at times; and, while we haven’t got a win yet, we have finished second six times.

While there’s no chance at the sport’s top prize, Larson feels with remaining races at Texas, Phoenix, and the season-ender at Homestead-Miami, his McDonald’s-Capital One team can still post a win.

“Last year we had four wins and were a top three-to-four team all season, we just had some bad luck in the playoffs,” he added. “This year we started off strong and kind of tapered off, and I felt we got back to being decent again before the playoffs; but just this round of 12, we weren’t where we needed to be.”

In addition to hopefully doing burnouts and posing in Victory Lane, Larson feels his Chip Gnassi-Felix Sabates team can gain some momentum headed into Daytona next February.

“We’re going to use this off-season to prepare for the new rules package we’ll have to race under next year,” he stated. “Reduced horsepower will help grow the sport, save money on engine packages; NASCAR works really hard.”

Larson defends stock car racing against the detractors who claim the sport is in a state of flux.

“Fans view our sport differently than they did several years ago,” he noted. “That’s why our grandstands don’t look as packed as they once did. Everybody struggles for attendance in all sports these days because you’ve got Twitter, Facebook, and so much social media that take in the sport you want to watch; so I think that’s why our sport is hard to track.”

Still a dirt-track racing aficionado, Larson recently reorganized his World of Outlaws Sprint car team, parting ways with driver Shane Stewart. Stewart and the Kyle Larson Racing team will look to finish off their tenure together in strong fashion over the final two World of Outlaws weekends at Port Royal (PA) Speedway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord.

“It’s been a quick road,” Larson says with a smile, “but it’s been well worth it. As a young guy I just wasn’t to do what I can to race hard and grow the sport.”