After Williams Grove visit, Kyle Larson posts essay: 'The N-word is not mine to use.'

The Charlotte Observer (TNS)
Kyle Larson is shown here after winning the Dirt Classic at Lincoln Speedway recently. The former NASCAR driver has been racing 410 sprint cars since he was fired from his Cup ride with Chip Ganassi Racing, winning more than 30 times on dirt tracks across the nation.

Former NASCAR driver Kyle Larson posted a personal essay on his website Sunday night in which he details a period of self-reflection after he was suspended by NASCAR in April for saying the N-word during an iRacing event.

Larson, who most recently raced in the Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 42 Chevrolet, wrote that he was “rightly suspended by NASCAR and fired from my job with a top-tier team.”

“The N-word is not mine to use,” Larson wrote. “It cannot be part of my vocabulary. The history of the word is connected to slavery, injustice and trauma that is deep and has gone on for far too long.”

Larson posted his essay after earning a pair of second-place finishes over the weekend during the Williams Grove National Open program. Larson's visit to the Cumberland County dirt track came during a World of Outlaws program. Since getting fired from his NASCAR ride, Larson has been racing predominantly in 410 sprint races across the country, most often with the Outlaws or the All Star Circuit of Champions.

The driver explained how meeting with members of the Urban Youth Racing School, a non-profit in Philadelphia that provides opportunities in motorsports for children in urban communities — most of whom are people of color — helped him learn about the journey of Black people in America and “the ugly history of racism and derogatory slurs.”

"No excuse" for his ignorance: Larson, 28, is half Japanese and a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. He said in the essay that his maternal grandparents were held in an internment camp during World War II and that there is “absolutely no excuse” for his ignorance in using the word.

“My mom and dad’s disappointment really affected me,” Larson wrote. He also said that there is no one who holds him to a higher standard than himself.

“And I had failed. I wanted to hide,” Larson wrote. “I shut down my social media accounts. In the time of COVID-19, wearing a mask in public actually made me feel more comfortable.”

Working to educate himself: Larson said he has been working to educate himself in the months since the incident, starting with a mandatory sensitivity training issued by NASCAR in order to be reinstated in the sport. He has also taken steps beyond what is required, including hiring a personal diversity coach, Doug Harris of The Kaleidoscope Group, as well as traveling to Minnesota to work with Tony Sanneh, a retired professional soccer player, and his charity in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

“When I look back at these last few months and see all the protests and unrest in our country, and the pain Black people are going through, it hurts to know that what I said contributed to that pain,” Larson wrote.

Speaking with Black athletes: Larson said he also spoke with Black athletes such as Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, golfer Harold Varner III, drivers Bubba Wallace, J.R. Todd and Willy T. Ribbs, as well as other members of the African American community about their experiences.

“We discussed the importance of having empathy and considering the struggles of people who don’t look like me,” Larson wrote.

“Being labeled a racist has hurt the most, but I brought that on myself. What I didn’t expect, though, were all the people who, despite their disappointment in what I did, made the choice to not give up on me.”

Wants something positive to come from this: Larson said that he wants something positive to come from all of the harm he has caused.

“For far too long, I was a part of a problem that’s much larger than me. I fully admit that losing my job and being publicly humiliated was how I came to understand this,” Larson wrote. “But in the aftermath, I realized that my young kids will one day be old enough to learn about what their daddy said.”

Larson is the father of a 5-year-old son, Owen, and a 2-year-old daughter, Audrey, with wife Katelyn Sweet.

“I can’t go back and change it, but I can control what happens from here on out,” Larson wrote. “I want them to know that words do matter. Apologizing for your mistakes matters. Accountability matters. Forgiveness matters. Treating others with respect matters.”

“I will not stop listening and learning, but for me now, it’s about action – doing the right things, being a part of the solution and writing a new chapter that my children will be proud to read.”

Wants back in NASCAR: Even though he has excelled in the sprint car since his NASCAR firing, amassing more than 30 wins, he said his goal is to get back into NASCAR.

While some team owners, such as Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing, have publicly expressed their support of Larson returning, sponsorship hurdles likely remain his biggest challenge.

Chip Ganassi Racing sponsors Credit One Bank, McDonald’s, AdventHealth and the team’s Chevrolet car manufacturer swiftly terminated their relationships with the driver after the incident. Larson is considered a top competitor, with six career wins in the Cup Series, and was a regular playoff contender, but it will be up to NASCAR and its teams when and where he returns.