During the racing shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic Kyle Larson made the foolish mistake of using a highly inappropriate racial slur while participating in an iRacing event. The language was heard over a public social media channel by numerous people. Almost immediately, the driver fell from grace and ultimately lost his NASCAR Cup Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing as sponsors quickly disavowed themselves from the quickly disgraced driver leaving his team with no other option but to release him.
NASCAR also stepped in and issued an indefinite suspension that would require the 27-year-old star to enroll in sensitivity training classes before he could be returned to the sport’s good graces. Larson has since offered a public apology and completed the mandated course but NASCAR has yet issued no statement regarding a timeline for his readmission.
And unless you have been living on a secluded island for the last couple of months, you already know there has been a great deal to take place in the country and the world regarding race relations since Larson’s inappropriate comment. With the death of African-American man George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police in May, there have been numerous demonstrations and protests calling for racial justice in virtually every major city in the United States.
Along with that movement, NASCAR issued a ban of the Confederate flag at its events. Then after a rope fashioned in the form of a noose was found in the garage stall of Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, Jr.(the Cup Series lone black regular) at Talladega Super Speedway, an unprecedented show of support by NASCAR drivers and crew members for Wallace played out prior to the running of the Geico 500.
An investigation by the FBI later determined that the rope had been on that same garage door since last fall and was not actually meant as a threat toward Wallace. Still, the show of support by those inside the sport provided a noteworthy moment.
So where does all of this leave Larson in terms of his future in NASCAR?
Obviously in this current climate of racial tension there would have to be quite a selling job done by any team that wanted to place a driver who had publicly used the “N-word” in its car. It would have to be assumed that sponsors would be reluctant to open themselves up to the kind of social backlash that would almost certainly come about if they were to place their company’s name on the side a race car being driven by Larson. And further, NASCAR has always been aware of the importance of public perception so it remains to be seen how willing they might be to reinstate the driver in this current climate.
That said, it would be a shame for such a talented driver’s NASCAR career to be completely lost as the result of what one would hope was a one-time mistake. With Larson having completed sensitivity training and showing signs of regret, is he not due a second chance to prove himself?
None of us are immune from mistakes. However, this social media driven world of piling on that we now live in does in fact make it difficult to achieve forgiveness from those most determined to advance whatever cause they support.
In the aftermath of his departure from NASCAR, Larson has gone on a tear across the Sprint Car world by amassing numerous victories. The California native has scored wins on both the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All-Star Circuit of Champions. On Tuesday night the No. 57 Sprint Car pulled into victory lane at Grandview Speedway as part of Pennsylvania SpeedWeek.
There is no doubting the talent of this six-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner and four-time NASCAR Playoffs qualifier.
Rumors have circulated that Stewart-Haas Racing might have an interest in bringing Larson back to NASCAR. There will be hurdles to clear before any team could accomplish putting Larson behind the wheel of their race car. Only the future will show whether there can be enough of a forgiving spirit to bring Kyle Larson back to the top level of the sport.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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