Kyle Larson, in his first interview since he was fired April 15 by Chip Ganassi Racing after using the N-word in a virtual race, repeatedly cited his ignorance in using the slur and said he has taken steps to educate himself.
“I was just ignorant. And immature. I didn’t understand the negativity and hurt that comes with that word,” Larson told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “That’s not a word that I had ever used. I grew up in Northern California, all I ever did was race and that’s all I was focused on. There’s probably a lot of real-life experiences I didn’t get to have, and I was just ignorant to how hurtful that word is.”
In April, Larson was iRacing, couldn’t hear his spotter on his headset and used the racist slur to get his colleague’s attention. In addition to being fired by his team, he lost his sponsors and was suspended by NASCAR.
“I made a mistake and I’m paying for it and I accept that,” Larson said. “I’d like to get back there, and we’ll see if there’s a way. All I can do is continue to improve myself and let my actions show who I truly am.”
Larson, 28, said Wednesday that he has not yet requested reinstatement from NASCAR, although he has met the requirements for reinstatement, including completing a sensitivity training course.
He has spent some of his time since being suspended back at the starting point of his career, racing sprint cars across the country and piling up 31 wins. This weekend, he will be at the Indy Mile Race at the Fairgrounds at nearly the same time the Indianapolis 500 is running across town.
However, he also has sought out opportunities to educate himself, and he said he isn’t doing what he’s doing in a bid to get his job back.
Larson connected with retired soccer star Tony Sanneh, whose foundation works on youth development and empowerment in the Minneapolis area. Larson went to visit Sanneh and volunteer at the foundation in the weeks before the city — and the nation — were rocked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Floyd died a few weeks after that first visit, and Larson later returned to Minneapolis. Sanneh took him to the site where Floyd died, and they toured parts of the city heavily damaged in protests over racial injustice.
“I never really realized how privileged I was in the way I grew up,” Larson said. “I never had to really worry about anything and I guess I was naive. I didn’t have a full understanding that there are people struggling with different things on a daily basis. It was very impactful, very moving.”
Sanneh connected Larson with former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Larson visited her foundation as well in East St. Louis. He got on the phone with Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track & Field who also runs a NASCAR-sanctioned team that is part of the stock car series’ diversity program. Larson, who is half Japanese, came through that program on his way to NASCAR.
He continued his work with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, a nonprofit that helps minorities advance in motorsports, and met face-to-face with a student who previously had celebrated with him in Victory Lane to apologize. He hired a personal diversity coach from The Kaleidoscope Group, which specializes in diversity and inclusion consulting.
“I just felt like there was more that I needed to do — and I wanted to show through actions that I am a better person than I was before,” Larson said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.