NASCAR star Kyle Larson was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and his racing team on Monday for dropping a racist slur during a virtual racing event.
The 27-year-old native of Elk Grove, California, was competing in an iRacing event Sunday night when he seemed to lose communication on his headset with his spotter.
During an ensuing microphone check Larson said, “You can't hear me?” Apparently believing he could not be heard, he then blurted out the N-word.
His fellow drivers in the chat were stunned by Larson’s slur, with one instantly saying: “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.”
“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," according to a statement issued Monday by his team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
"As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties.”
Larson took to social media on Monday to apologize.
“Hey, I just want to say I’m sorry. Last night I made a mistake and said the word that should never, ever be said and there’s no excuse for that," Larson said in a video message.
"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 and I hope everybody is staying safe during these crazy times. Thank you.”
Larson's sponsors include McDonalds, Credit One Bank and Chevrolet.
“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. "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.”
Larson is half Japanese, and his grandparents spent time in an interment camp in California during World War II.
His early career was marked in short-track racing, before eventually getting into NASCAR's “Drive for Diversity” program.
Larson is the second NASCAR performer to draw unwanted attention this month while racing online as the sport tries to entertain fans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bubba Wallace was dropped by his sponsor last week after he “rage quit” an official NASCAR iRacing event that was being televised live nationally.
Wallace wrecked in the game and quit, later admitting on Twitter that it was out of anger. His sponsor, topical pain reliever Blue-Emu, replied via Twitter with a GIF of then-"Apprentice" host Donald Trump and his famous two-word tag: "You're fired."
Back in 2013, NASCAR suspended Xfinity Series driver Jeremy Clements for using the N-word while speaking to a reporter. He later completed sensitivity training and was reinstated.
Larson in his seventh full season racing at NASCAR's top Cup level, and is seventh in the current season's tightly packed standings. He's also in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.
NASCAR created iRacing, a virtual racing league, that's successfully engaged viewers and set records for esports television viewership. Fans have been drawn to the platform because drivers can link into one another on a live stream, where they banter, argue, make jokes and discuss the racing.
Fans have also been able to eavesdrop through the streaming platform Twitch.