Yesterday evening, professional NASCAR racer Kyle Larson used the n-word during an event hosted by prominent simulation esports league iRacing and broadcast on Twitch and eNASCAR.com. He’s since been suspended by NASCAR, as well as his racing team.
With covid-19 forcing people across the world to pump the brakes on everything, professional racing organizations have concluded that simulation video games are so close to the real thing that they’ll do in a historically severe pinch. We now live in a world where it’s possible for a professional NASCAR driver to join the legendary annals of heated gaming moment history.
During last night’s Monza Madness iRacing event, an exhibition, Larson seemed to have trouble communicating with his spotter—the member of a NASCAR team who relays information to the driver. This was picked up by other racers, some of whom were streaming on their own channels.
“You can’t hear me?” said Larson. “Hey, [n-word].”
After a couple beats of silence, another racer chimed in over voice chat: “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, buddy,” he said.
“Yep, we heard that,” said another.
“Yikes,” said a third.
Today, both NASCAR and Larson’s team, Chip Ganassi Racing, suspended him indefinitely.
“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 on its website. “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.”
“We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event,” Chip Ganassi Racing said in a statement on Twitter. “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.”
Update: 2:50 PM: iRacing has also suspended Larson indefinitely. “We have strict policies against offensive behavior and language,” the organization said in a statement emailed to Kotaku. “Kyle Larson’s language last night during a streamed online race was both offensive and inappropriate, and in violation of our sporting code.”
Kotaku reached out to NASCAR, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Larson for more information about the terms of Larson’s suspensions, but they did not reply as of this publishing. In an email, a Twitch spokesperson pointed Kotaku to the platform’s rules around hate and harassment, but did not say if the company would be taking punitive measures against Larson (who does not have his own channel) or iRacing.
Larson has Japanese-American heritage. He moved from short-track racing into NASCAR through the organization’s “Drive for Diversity” program, an attempt at reckoning with NASCAR racing’s very white, sometimes racist past and present. Today, Larson issued an apology on Twitter.
“I just want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said,” Larson said in a video. “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 un-repairable, and I own up to that. But I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am.”
This comes just one week after NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace ragequit a virtual race after some bumper-to-bumper action, losing a sponsor in the process. While some professional racers, like F1 star Lando Norris, are thriving on Twitch, it seems that with the worlds of streaming and racing colliding, others are spinning out.
Update: 4/14/2020, 11:20 AM: Chip Ganassi Racing has decided to permanently part ways with Larson.
“After much consideration, Chip Ganassi Racing has determined that it will end its relationship with driver Kyle Larson,” the team said in a statement on Twitter. “As we said before, the comments that Kyle made were both offensive and unacceptable especially given the values of our organization. As we continue[d] to evaluate the situation with all the relevant parties, it became obvious that this was the only appropriate course of action to take.”