NASCAR’s Kyle Larson fired for racial slur in virtual race

NASCAR’s Kyle Larson fired for racial slur in virtual race

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR star Kyle Larson was fired Tuesday, one day after he was suspended and without pay by Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur on a live stream during a virtual race.

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

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The firing came a day after nearly all of Larson’s sponsors such as McDonalds, Credit One Bank and Chevrolet dropped him.

In a statement Tuesday, Chip Ganassi Racing said:

“After much consideration, Chip Ganassi Racing has determined that it will end its relationship with driver Kyle Larson. As we said before, the comments 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 they was the only appropriate course of action to take.”

Larson is half Japanese — his grandparents spent time in an interment camp in California during World War II — and he climbed from short-track racing into NASCAR through its “Drive for Diversity” program. He is the only driver of Japanese descent to win a major NASCAR race.

“NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event," NASCAR said in a statement. "Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base.”

NASCAR in 2013 suspended Xfinity Series driver Jeremy Clements for using the same word Larson used while Clements was speaking to a reporter. Clements was reinstated after completing a sensitivity training course and still competes.

Larson is the second driver in a week to draw scrutiny while using the online racing platform to fill time during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bubba Wallace one week earlier "rage quit" an official NASCAR iRacing event televised live nationally, and his sponsor fired him immediately. Wallace had been wrecked, and, fed up, quit the game and admitted it was out of anger on Twitter. Blue-Emu, a topical pain reliever who had sponsored Wallace for the virtual race and has an association with him for real, replied to the tweet firing Wallace.

Larson was parked during the race Wallace quit a week earlier by iRacing officials for intentionally wrecking another driver.

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 as sports stopped during the coronavirus crisis.

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 live stream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing. Fans can eavesdrop through the gaming app Twitch.

Larson used the slur during a Sunday night race for fun against drivers from various series. The event was not part of NASCAR’s official series, and Larson earlier Sunday replied to a Tweet listing the lineup for the race saying “I don't really ever remember confirming but if I am not busy with the family I might try and get on (the simulator)."

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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 has six career Cup wins and finished a career-best sixth in the standings last season. He is 27 and the married father of two young children.

He is considered one of the top sprint car racers in the country and in January 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.

“I’m sorry NASCAR, I’m sorry Daytona, but this is the biggest (expletive) race I’ve ever won,” Larson said after exiting his winning Chili Bowl car. "I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks but this is bad (expletive).”

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

Larson has been ordered to complete a sensitivity training.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.