Kyle Larson, a professional racecar driver, started trending on Twitter Sunday night for all the wrong reasons. During the iRacing Pro Series event, which was being played on a live stream on Twitch, Larson said, “You can’t hear me? Hey, n—–,” with a hard “r” sound. He has since been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and his team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
The 27-year-old Japanese-American driver, who graduated from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, didn’t realize everyone could hear him during the March 12 virtual racing event. After an awkward silence, racecar driver Anthony Alfredo said, “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone bud.” Aaron MacEachern added, “Yup, we heard that.” The iRacing events have been held with drivers from NASCAR, Indy Car and other major racing circuits competing virtually while real-life races are on hold because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. iRacing is a realistic online simulation that includes the use of a driver’s seat, wheel and pedals. During the real NASCAR season, the racing organization also runs a virtual competition using the simulation system.
WARNING: The video below contains explicit language that might be upsetting for readers.
Larson has been suspended by his team, Chip Ganassi Racing, after the incident. Chip Ganassi Racing issued a statement saying, “We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing event. The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable. As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties.”
NASCAR issued a statement on the incident saying, “NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base.”
According to the NASCAR behavior policy, members of the organization “shall not make a public statement or communication that criticizes, ridicules or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age or handicapping condition.” The policy says those that violate the policy can be fined and face an indefinite suspension and possible termination.
Larson posted a video apology on Twitter on Monday. The driver said in the 42-second video, “I just want to say I’m sorry, last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said, and there’s no excuse for that. You know, I wasn’t raised that way, it’s just an awful thing to say. I feel very sorry for my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community and especially the African-American community. I understand the damage is probably unrepairable. I’ll own up to that. But I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am and, I hope everyone is staying safe during these crazy times. Thank you.”
Driver Conor Daly, Who Was Also in the Virtual Race, Lost a Sponsorship After Video Surfaced of His Father Using the N-Word During an Interview in the ’80s
Conor Daly, who was also a participant on Sunday’s iRacing event, said, “Yikes,” after hearing Larson drop the racial slur during the live stream. Daly knows firsthand the kind of fall out that can happen even being adjacent to someone using the N-word.
In 2018, Daly lost his Lilly Diabetes sponsorship for the NASCAR Xfinity race at Road America after a video of his father, Derek Daly, surfaced from the 1980s in which he’s heard using the racial slur. Daly wasn’t even born at the time his father’s radio interview took place.
Lilly explained in a statement, “Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend.”
Daly’s father, a former CART and Formula One driver from Ireland, apologized and was “mortified to learn what the n-word meant in America.” He said, “I want everyone to know I deeply regret and sincerely apologize for what I said more than three decades ago.”
The Reaction to Larson’s Use of a Racial Slur Was a Mixture of Shock & Disappointment
Larson, who’s married to wife Katelyn Sweet, with whom he shares two children, Owen and Audrey, has been a part of 18 championship teams and over 190 victories during his career. Major highlights include four Indianapolis 500s, a Daytona 500, and a Brickyard 400, and it was surprising for viewers and colleagues to hear the decorated driver so casually say a racial slur.
The Mercury Sports editor Ryan Black tweeted, “The crazy thing about this Kyle Larson story — which, I assure you, is only going to get bigger and bigger in the coming hours — is that he came up through NASCAR’s ‘Drive for Diversity’ program. He’s the last driver I would have thought would get caught up in something like this.”
Robert Klemko, sports writer for The Washington Post, tweeted, “I’ll be damned. I thought all those dudes calling me an n-word on Xbox live were moron preteens but turns out it was Kyle Larson the whole time.”
Even though sports are on hiatus due to coronavirus, many fans shared think once NASCAR starts up again, Larson can expect a few of his sponsors to have dropped him. While Larson should be reprimanded for choosing to use such a reprehensible term, some users online predicted this incident could be the end of Larson’s career in general.
The virtual races previously led another NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace, to lose a sponsorship deal after “rage-quitting” from an event. According to Fox Sports, Wallace was involved in a wreck with fellow driver Clint Bowyer during a virtual race on Sunday, April 5. After the crash, Wallace was heard saying, “Y’all have a good one. That’s it. This is why I don’t take this (expletive) serious. Peace out!”
One of his sponsors, Blue-Emu, a joint and muscle cream, tweeted at Wallace after the race, “GTK where you stand. Bye bye Bubba. We’re interested in drivers, not quitters.” The tweet was in reply to Wallace tweeting, “Bahaha I’m dying at my mentions right now…I ruined so many peoples (sic) day by quitting (sic)..a video game.. Bahaha. A video game. Damn quarantine life is rough.”
Larson talked to The Athletic in March about iRacing, saying, “I think it’s a great avenue for racing if you don’t have the funding to do it for real. It’s extremely competitive. I probably don’t get on iRacing a lot anymore, mostly because I’m very average when I get on there. I’m not even a top-10 guy when I get in a race with 15 cars. Those people who dedicate a lot of time are extremely good at it.”
Larson was hesitant about taking part in the Easter Sunday Monza Madness race. He tweeted on April 11, after being included in a list of confirmed drivers taking part in the virtual event, “I don’t really ever remember confirming but if I’m not busy with the family I might try and get on.”