NASCAR isn’t currently running on the track, and now one of the sport’s most promising drivers isn’t competing at all. Chip Ganassi Racing pro Kyle Larson has been suspended indefinitely by his team for his comments during the livestream of a virtual race.
According to the Associated Press, Larson was competing in an iRacing event when he lost communication with his spotter in his headset, which led him to check the connection while referring to his spotter using the N-word. By the next day, two of Larson’s sponsors, McDonald’s and Credit One Bank, ended their sponsorship agreements with the driver.
In a statement, McDonald’s USA 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.”
The loss of sponsors was a second strike for Larson, who’d already been suspended from his team without pay. Sources within the sport are saying he may be gone from the team for good, which could also mean McDonald’s may continue its sponsorship of CG Racing, as long as the team finds a replacement driver.
Chip Ganassi said, “The words 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 …”
Larson posted an apology video on his social media accounts, saying: “I made a mistake, said the word that should never, ever be said. There is 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. But I just want to let you all know how sorry I am …”
One sponsor seems to have accepted this. Plan B Sales & Marketing said, “We know (Larson) to be an awesome young man that made a mistake, and we are going to stand behind him and help in any way we can …”
But that’s just one secondary sponsor. Larson has a lot of ground to make up. And he has the opportunity to do that, because he has the talent. He will have to prove he’s not a PR liability for CGR or another racing team. That might take time, and it will definitely take the right message, delivered well and consistently. Larson can come back, as long as he gets the message right and avoids any future never-say-that communication.