During a virtual racing event on Sunday NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson was heard among those participating in the event as well as others watching via the internet using a racial slur. The “N-word” was clearly audible with the driver quickly being told by someone else that “everyone can hear you, Kyle” shortly after the inappropriate remark.
First of all, there is no excusing the use of the word. It’s hard to believe that anyone, particularly a person with such a high public profile as a star NASCAR driver, even has that word in their vocabulary. And it doesn’t matter if it was used in some sort of joking manner or as a term of familiarity among friends. Anyone should know better.
And the irony of the fact that Larson came into NASCAR by way of the ‘Drive for Diversity’ program is not lost here either. The California native has grandparents of Japanese descent who spent time in an internment camp during World War II.
In a time in which all racing has been put on hold, many fans have turned to the iRacing platform in search of high speed entertainment. But the format is proving costly for the participants as Bubba Wallace lost sponsor Blue Emu after he quit during a fit of anger during the eNASCAR race at the virtual race at Bristol. Also in that same event, Larson and Daniel Suarez were benched following repeated instances of intentionally crashing each other. It was Suarez’s second such penalty in as many weeks.
There almost certainly will be fallout from the inappropriate remark. By late Sunday evening Larson ranked as the top “Trend” on Twitter even during a global pandemic and a time when severe storms were raging across the southeastern portion of the country.
On Larson’s side of things, the 27-year-old driver is in the midst of a season in which his contract with current team Chip Ganassi Racing will expire. He is expected to be one of the most sought after free agents on the market in a year that will be filled with numerous high profile free agents. It is thought that the winner of six Cup Series races could draw a big contract that could land him with one of the sport’s top organizations.
However, if the backlash from this episode is severe enough, sponsors may seek to distance themselves from the driver. That, in turn, would definitely hurt his status as a top free agent. And there have been numerous instances in which companies turn away from high profile celebrities and athletes caught in the middle of similar media and social media firestorms.
Further, NASCAR will likely have to take some sort of action. Other drivers have faced penalties for such actions. As part of the sanctioning body’s rule book, it states that “An indefinite suspension or termination could occur due to slurs toward race, sexual orientation, religion or age — as well as being charged with or convicted of a crime.”
And consider that the publicity will come at a time in which there is no other sports news to talk about because of the global coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shutdowns. There is going to be plenty of discussion on the various sports-related television and radio shows in the near, and perhaps, even the long term.
For the sport as a whole, there could also be repercussions. NASCAR and other forms of racing have, in recent years, worked to battle the image of being “southern based and redneck”. One of its prominent stars using a racial slur, even if he is not southern nor caucasian, will not help the negative image of the sport which will be reinforced for many outsiders.
It is not likely that Kyle Larson’s racing career will be ended because of this incident, despite what many on highly reactionary social media were predicting in the immediate wake of the moment. However, this is not a good look. His complete lapse in judgement will in some way cost himself and the sport to some degree.
While everyone deserves a chance to explain themselves and seek forgiveness, it was an very regrettable error.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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