Sunday’s Monza Madness has brought the madness into the real world, and not in a good way. On Monday, NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR and iRacing after he was caught saying a racial slur during the race. In addition to receiving no pay during his suspension, he will have to attend sensitivity training. Many of his sponsors have since severed ties, effectively placing his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing in jeopardy.
“We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event,” Chip Ganassi Racing said. “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.”
During qualifying for the Madness, Larson was testing his microphone in the drivers’ voice chat. As a mic check phrase, presumably unaware that others could hear him, he audibly dropped the N-word. Numerous drivers were live streaming the race on Twitch, with some like reigning IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden visibly expressing surprise shortly after the slur was said.
The incident was unsurprisingly and widely denounced by fans and media members, especially considering Larson’s background as a member of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. Founded in 2004, the D4D strives to provide minority and female drivers with opportunities to race; Larson, who is part-Japanese, was in the D4D in 2012 when he began his stock car career.
Bill Lester, the first African-American driver in the now-Xfinity Series, publicly criticised Larson via Twitter.
Credit One Bank, who sponsors Larson’s #42 car, also issued a statement: “Credit One Bank denounces the highly offensive language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. We support the quick actions taken by NASCAR and the Chip Ganassi Racing Team to suspend Kyle indefinitely.”
Shortly after the suspension, iRacing clamped down on the misconduct by issuing an indefinite ban for the driver.
“iRacing considers itself to be a welcome and inclusive community for racing enthusiasts all around the world. We have strict policies against offensive behavior and language,” the sim racing service tweeted. “Kyle Larson’s language last night during a streamed online race was both offensive and inappropriate, and in violation of our sporting code. As such, Kyle Larson has been suspended indefinitely from the iRacing service.”
NASCAR has commonly lived with the stereotypes of being a Southern-based, white-dominated sport. This has been the case throughout much of the sport’s history, from the racism faced by 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott in the 1960s to the controversy surrounding fans flying Confederate flags at the track. The sanctioning body has taken efforts to curb the stigma with programs like the D4D and disciplinary action for offenders.
A recent example of the latter being utilised came in 2013, when Xfinity driver Jeremy Clements received a two-race suspension and sensitivity training after saying the same slur as Larson during a casual conversation with a reporter.
“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,” a NASCAR statement read. “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.”
Although Larson’s suspension is indefinite, his future with Ganassi for the rest of 2020 and beyond is unknown. Due to the NASCAR season being frozen by COVID-19 after four races with no return date formalised, CGR has not revealed any replacement drivers or plans. Larson, who has raced for the team since 2014, is signed with the team through 2020 but an extension has not been discussed. He is currently seventh in points.
Shortly after the suspension, Larson tweeted a video to apologise for the slur.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” he began. “Last night, I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said. There’s no excuse for that. 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 and I own up to that. But I just want to let you all know how sorry I am and I hope everybody is staying safe during this crazy time.”