Kyle Larson, the Elk Grove stock car driver formerly sponsored by locally-owned DC Solar before its demise, has been fired by his team owner and suspended from NASCAR after he used a racial slur that was heard on a live stream Sunday during an IRacing event.
Both the car manufacturer Chevrolet and sponsors withdrew support of the Chip Ganassi Racing driver in announcements made Monday, and iRacing has suspended him from its service and other penalties may be assessed.
Ganassi announced Tuesday that Larson was fired.
“After much consideration, Chip Ganassi Racing has determined that it will end its relationship with driver Kyle Larson. 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,” its statement said.
The incident happened late Sunday when Larson was participating in the exhibition Monza Madness iRacing, which NASCAR has been substituted for regular car races during the mitigation efforts to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Larson was speaking on an audio channel that can be heard by all competitors when he used the “N-word” racial slur to a white team member when asking whether he could be heard on the channel.
The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Ganassi, he is the only one of Japanese descent to have won major NASCAR races, with five Cup wins to his credit and has qualified for the Cup championship playoffs in the past three years. This would have been his seventh full season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
NASCAR issued its penalty Monday, citing its general procedures and member conduct guidelines, and said Larson must attend sensitivity training before his career could resume.
In its statement, the racing governing body said, ““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. 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.”
Its rule book states that a member could be fined, suspended indefinitely or terminated for “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.”
Chip Ganassi Racing promptly suspended Larson, saying ““We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event. The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable. As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties.”
Two current sponsors, McDonald’s and Credit One Bank, also have dropped Larson as a result. In its statement, McDonald’s said, ““We were extremely disappointed and appalled to hear about this incident. The comments made by Kyle Larson are insensitive, offensive and not reflective of our inclusive values and will not be tolerated. McDonald’s is taking immediate action to terminate the relationship with Larson.”
Credit One’s statement said: ““As stated earlier, Credit One Bank denounces the highly offensive language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. In addition to the quick actions taken by NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing, Credit One Bank is terminating its sponsorship of Kyle Larson.”
Chevrolet, the manufacturer used in Chip Ganassi Racing, announced it, too, had suspended its association with Larson and is considering “additional action.”
He has issued his own statement Monday: “I want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever, be said. There’s no excuse for that; I wasn’t raised that way. It’s 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. I want to let you all know how sorry I am. Finally, I just want to say that I hope everyone is staying safe during these crazy times. Thank you.”
Larson’s Japanese ancestry comes from his mother, whose parents were placed in a Japanese internment camp for a time.
He began attending races with his parents a week after his birth, and started driving Northern California outlaw karts at 7, His driving skills propelled him through various series, and he is only the second driver to win in all three types of United States Auto Club cars in a single night, which he did at the 2011 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway. He still holds the sprint car track record at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville.
A participant in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, he progressed through its K&N Pro Series East, winning its championship in 2012 and Rookie of the Year title. His first ARCA victory came in 2014, when he won at Pocono Raceway from the pole. He was the NASCAR’s Nationwide Rookie of the Year in 2013.
His Cup career began in 2014, finishing the season with the Rookie of the Year title.
At this time, one sponsor has chosen to remain with Larson. Finley Farms said it would continue to support the driver in his sprint car racing. “We all make mistakes and deserve a second chance,” spokesperson Jason Finley said.
Larson experienced an unrelated situation with the demise of sponsor DC Solar which threatened his NASCAR’s Cup level participation in 2019 and caused the elimination of another team owned by Chip Ganassi Racing. Members of the Ganassi team are not implicated in the company’s case.
DC Solar was founded by Martinez residents Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, whose relationship with Chip Ganassi Racing ended in December 2018 when the FBI and IRS raided its headquarters in Benicia and the Carpoffs’ home in Martinez.
Larson’s Cup ride continued, but Ganassi disbanded its Xfinity team led by driver Ross Chastain, which also had been sponsored by DC Solar.
The couple agreed to plead guilty to charges related to an apparent $1 billion Ponzi scheme involving their companies.
They are scheduled to be sentenced May 19 by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez. Jeff Carpoff, 49, faces up to a maximum of 30 years in prison, and Paulette Carpoff, 46, could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison.