In an essay posted to his website Sunday night, suspended NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson writes of the lessons he’s learned — and the steps he’s taken to make amends — since using the N-word during a virtual race in April.
Chip Ganassi racing fired Larson, who has spent the past months racing and winning in sprint cars, his passion and his initial path to NASCAR. Larson, who has met NASCAR’s requirements for reinstatement, which included a sensitivity course, reiterated that he hopes to return to the Cup Series.
If he applies for reinstatement and is approved, and then finds a ride, Larson writes he’ll return with an understanding of why his use of N-word had, at least temporarily, derailed his NASCAR career. Larson, 28, was participating in a virtual race when he couldn’t hear his spotter on his headset and used the racial slur to get his colleague’s attention.
Instead of being on a private audio channel, the comment occurred over a public channel, and the repercussions included the loss of sponsorship deals with McDonald’s, Credit One Bank and Fiserv, a financial services technology company that runs the Clover platform that sponsored Larson. In addition, Chevrolet terminated its personal-services relationship with him.
“Since April, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I realized how little I really knew about the African-American experience in this country and racism in general,” Larson writes. “Educating myself is something I should’ve done a long time ago, because it would’ve made me a better person — the kind of person who doesn’t casually throw around an awful, racist word. The kind who makes an effort to understand the hate and oppression it symbolizes and the depth of pain it has caused Black people throughout history and still to this day. It was past time for me to shut up, listen and learn.
“The first lesson: The N-word is not mine to use. It cannot be part of my vocabulary. The history of the word is connected to slavery, injustice and trauma that is deep and has gone on for far too long. I truly didn’t say the word with the intention of degrading or demeaning another person, but my ignorance ended up insulting an entire community of people who, in the year 2020, still have to fight for justice and equality. When I look back at these last few months and see all the protests and unrest in our country, and the pain Black people are going through, it hurts to know that what I said contributed to that pain.”
Larson writes of hiring a diversity coach, volunteering in a food drive organized by former pro soccer player Tony Sanneh in Minnesota and then returning to Minnesota and joining Sanneh at the memorial set up after the May death of George Floyd while in police custody. In addition to talking with Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone full-time Black driver, he said he’s spoken with business executives and Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“I’ve received a lot of straight talk from Mike [Metcalf, a Black crewman who worked on Larson’s Cup team], and others since April. But what gives me hope and humbles me is how so many people have opened their doors to lift up someone who probably doesn’t deserve it and to share perspectives I should’ve sought on my own a long time ago.
“After I said the N-word, anger came at me from all angles. Being labeled a racist has hurt the most, but I brought that on myself. What I didn’t expect, though, were all the people who, despite their disappointment in what I did, made the choice to not give up on me. It motivates me to repay their faith by working harder, not giving up on myself, and making sure something positive comes from the harm I caused.”
Larson, considered a leading candidate to replace Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports prior to his suspension, could still be a candidate for a seat at Hendrick or another top team if he’s reinstated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.