Larson fired for using racial slur in virtual race

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chip Ganassi Racing has fired star NASCAR driver Kyle Larson after he used the N-word during a virtual race, it was announced Tuesday.

Larson was competing in an iRacing event Sunday night when he appeared to lose communication with his spotter on his headset. During a check of his microphone, Larson said, “You can’t hear me?” That was followed by the N-word.

“After much consideration, Chip Ganassi Racing has determined that it will end its relationship with driver Kyle Larson,“ Ganassi said. “As we said before, the comments that Kyle made were both offensive and unacceptable especially given the values of our organization. As we continued to evaluate the situation with all the relevant parties, it became obvious that this was the only appropriate course of action to take.”

The star driver issued an apology Monday, saying there was “no excuse” for his comment and apologized in a video posted on his social media accounts.

“I made a mistake, said the word that should never, ever be said,” Larson said. “There is no excuse for that. I wasn’t raised that way. It is just an awful thing to say. I feel very sorry for my family, my friends, my partners, the NASCAR community and especially the African-American community.

“I understand the damage is probably unrepairable and I own up to that. But I just want to let you all know how sorry I am and I hope everyone is staying safe during these crazy times.”

He was suspended without pay by Ganassi early Monday, then suspended indefinitely by NASCAR. Larson, who is half Japanese, was ordered to complete a sensitivity training.

There were ramifications from Larson’s sponsors. McDonald’s, Credit One Bank and Fiserv, a financial services technology company that runs the Clover platform that had sponsored him, terminated their sponsorship deals with Larson, and Chevrolet suspended its personal services relationship with him.

Larson reached out personally to many sponsors and friends to apologize. Brent Powell, President of Plan B Sales and Marketing, was the only sponsor to remain behind Larson. He said the driver called him personally to “express his regret about what transpired. He sounded very somber and was very apologetic.”

Without funding on the No. 42 Chevrolet so long as Larson was in the car, the situation became untenable for Ganassi to not fire Larson.

Larson, in his seventh full season racing at NASCAR’s top Cup level, was in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was at the top of the list of a crowded free-agent field when the circuit was suspended four races into the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NASCAR quickly pivoted to create an iRacing league of virtual racing that has engaged viewers and set records for esports television viewership. One of the draws of the platform is that drivers can link into one another on a livestream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing. Fans can listen through the gaming app Twitch.

Larson used the slur during the Sunday night race against drivers from various series. The event was not part of NASCAR’s official series.

Drivers in the chat immediately reacted to Larson’s use of the slur, with one instantly alerting him, “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.” Others were in disbelief.

Larson, 27, has six career Cup wins and finished a career-best sixth in the standings last season.

His famed sprint car career could also be in jeopardy: Kyle Larson Racing fields a Chevrolet in the World of Outlaws Series that is sponsored in part by Lucas Oil, a company that said it was indefinitely ending its partnership with Larson.

In January, Larson finally won the prestigious Chili Bowl after 13 attempts. He was criticized by NASCAR fans after the Chili Bowl win for calling it the biggest of his career — just weeks before the season-opening Daytona 500, where he is 0-for-7.

Larson later apologized for downplaying the significance of his NASCAR wins. His victories in Cup have come at California; Dover, Delaware; Michigan (three victories); and Richmond, Virginia. He won NASCAR’s non-points All-Star race last season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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