NASCAR star Kyle Larson used a racial slur on a live stream during a virtual race — the second driver in a week to draw scrutiny while using the online racing platform to fill time during the coronavirus pandemic.
Larson was competing in an iRacing event Sunday night when he appeared to lose communication on his headset with his spotter. During a check of his microphone, he said, “You can’t hear me?” That was followed by the N-word.
Bubba Wallace one week earlier “rage quit” an official NASCAR iRacing event televised live nationally and his sponsor fired him immediately. Wallace had been wrecked, and, fed up, quit the game and admitted it was out of anger on Twitter. Blue-Emu, a topical pain reliever who had sponsored Wallace for the virtual race and has an association with him for real, replied to the tweet firing Wallace.
It was not clear Monday morning what fallout there could be for Larson.
Larson is half Japanese — his grandparents spent time in an interment camp in California — and he climbed from short track racing into NASCAR through its “Drive for Diversity” program. He is the only driver of Japanese descent to win a major NASCAR race.
Larson, in his seventh full season in NASCAR, is in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was at the top of the list of a crowded free agent field when the circuit was suspended four races into the season as sports stopped during the coronavirus crisis.
NASCAR quickly pivoted to create an iRacing league of virtual racing that has engaged viewers and set records for esports television viewership. One of the draws of the platform is that drivers can link into one another on a live stream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing. Fans can eavesdrop through the gaming app Twitch.
Larson used the slur during a Sunday night race for fun against drivers from various series. The event was not part of NASCAR’s official series.
Drivers in the chat immediately reacted to Larson’s use of the slur, with one instantly alerting him, “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.” Others were in disbelief.
Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing had no immediate comment Monday. Larson has six career Cup wins and finished a career-best sixth in the standings last season. He is 27 and the married father of two young children.
Among his sponsors at Ganassi are McDonald's and Credit One Bank.
He is considered one of the top sprint car racers in the country and in January finally won the prestigious Chili Bowl after 13 attempts.