Racing is a business, first and foremost. And more than that, it is a very expensive business. It takes millions of dollars to run a top-flight racing organization in NASCAR, IndyCar, or Formula 1 and there are very few people in the business of racing who have so much money that they can afford to lose it by the millions.
That’s exactly what was about to happen with Chip Ganassi Racing had they opted to stick with Kyle Larson as a driver. After the 27-year-old racer used a racial slur during an internet broadcast of an iRacing event that has by now been heard by scores of people, sponsors such as McDonald’s, Credit One Bank, and Chevrolet stated that they would no longer be involved with the California native or were suspending their relationhip with him and any team he is a part of.
Further, the NASCAR sanctioning body handed Larson an indefinite suspension and mandated that he receive sensitivity training before being reinstated. That almost certainly will result in the driver not being allowed to compete for some unknown amount of time whenever racing resumes.
What other option did CGR have but to terminate Larson?
Race teams do not operate as charity organizations and that’s exactly the position CGR would have been put in had they stuck with Larson as their driver because the outside funding was going to go away.
Many have taken to social media to talk about second chances and about who uses that word and who doesn’t. In terms of Larson remaining in a CGR car for the remainder of the 2020 season, none of that matters.
Yes, Larson made a serious mistake and people should be given an opportunity to make amends for their mistakes. But for those arguing that CGR should have kept their embattled driver no matter what, are you willing to empty your bank account to give someone who works for you a second chance? That’s exactly what this would have amounted to because, again, racing is very expensive and very few people can or are willing to do it without sponsors.
Perhaps Larson will get another NASCAR ride at some point in the future. He certainly has demonstrated the talent for it. But before that happens, team owners will have to convince would-be sponsors that this driver is worth the risk of the almost certain media and social media firestorm that will come with his hiring.
Larson made a foolish error, which he owned up to in a video posted on social media, that put the companies that sponsor him in a very difficult position because, no matter what your personal feelings might be, remaining with him would have been akin to accepting racism as proper behavior to the broader world outside of racing. No company wants that perception attached to them.
Maybe someday Larson will be able to show that his mistake was simply that, a mistake, and not a true reflection of his character. But at the same time, he, through his own actions, is the one who put McDonald’s, Credit One Bank, NASCAR, and Chip Ganassi Racing in the position of having to make the decisions they made.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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