NASCAR driver Kyle Larson has been fired by his team and dropped by his sponsors after he said the n-word during a sim racing stream over the weekend.
It’s the latest example of how the pandemic-inspired shift to online racing is still resulting in real-world consequences for some drivers. Just last week, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace lost a sponsor after he quit a sim race following a virtual crash.
Larson was driving in a special event held Sunday in iRacing, a leading sim racing platform that has become one of the de facto places for drivers to compete in the absence of real-world events. He said the n-word on a public drivers’ channel while apparently trying to privately communicate with a friend.
Larson apologized in a video message on Monday. “I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said. There’s no excuse for that,” he said. By the time the 27-year-old driver had posted the video, he had already been suspended by his team, Chip Ganassi Racing, without pay. Credit One Bank, which was one of Larson’s main sponsors, released a statement saying it “support[s] the quick actions taken by NASCAR and the Chip Ganassi Racing Team,” and has since dropped the driver. McDonald’s followed suit. And on Tuesday morning, both Chip Ganassi Racing and Chevrolet fired Larson.
HE’S BEEN SUSPENDED FROM ‘IRACING’, TOO
NASCAR initially suspended Larson for violating an entry in the series’ rule book that warns punitive action can be taken against drivers following any “public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.”
iRacing itself also suspended Larson from the service indefinitely. “iRacing considers itself to be a welcome and inclusive community for racing enthusiasts all around the world,” the Massachusetts-based company said Monday. “We have strict policies against offensive behavior and language. Kyle Larson’s language last night during a streamed online race was both offensive and inappropriate, and in violation of our sporting code.”
Like all other sports around the world right now, racing is on pause while the world battles the novel coronavirus pandemic. But thanks to years of grassroots online racing and the rise of realistic sim platforms like iRacing, pro drivers have quickly taken to running in virtual races to help fill the gap left by the cancellation of real-world events. Fox and NBC have even started broadcasting many of these competitions on TV, and many drivers stream their own view of each race on Twitch or YouTube.
The sim race Larson was part of on Sunday night was not one of the more official or heavily promoted events. But it was a race that featured a field of more than 60 drivers from all sorts of different motorsport disciplines, so there was a particular spotlight on the event.
The ability to take part in these sim racing competitions from the comfort of your own home is one of the many reasons for the surge of involvement by pro drivers in recent weeks. But as Larson demonstrated, it’s possible to get a little too comfortable.