Kyle Larson‘s road back into NASCAR after his suspension has reached its final stages. On Friday, the sanctioning body confirmed he has filed for reinstatement, though a formal decision has not been made. Larson had appeared on CBS This Morning earlier in the day, marking his first NASCAR-related television interview since the suspension in April.
“I know deep down I’m not a racist,” he said. “I said a racist word and I can fully understand why people would label me ‘racist’.”
In April, Larson’s burgeoning NASCAR career came crashing down when he was suspended for using the N-word during an iRacing event, losing his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing and much of his sponsors as he was indefinitely suspended.
During his interview with James Brown of CBS, he explained why he used the slur at a white friend, who was serving as his spotter for the Monza Madness race: “I had raced with him in Australia. The group that we were with kind of used the word casually as a greeting. I didn’t use it in a way to degrade or insult anyone.”
“It’s not my word to use,” he continued, when Brown asked why it was used as a word of endearment. “I need to get it out of my vocabulary and I have. […] I guess I didn’t think of how it took [African-Americans back] to slavery and things like that, and injustices that they have had to work so hard to overcome.”
Although he continued his racing career on dirt, he also tried to take steps towards reinstatement, including NASCAR’s mandatory sensitivity training and participating in discussions with members of the black community. One of his activities in the summer came at the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, a group dedicated to helping minority youth break into motorsports.
“I had the opportunity to meet with Kyle face to face after it happened,” Urban Youth Racing School co-founder Michelle Martin said. “One of the things in looking in his eyes for his sincerity was, ‘Are you sorry that you got caught? Are you really sorry that this happened?’ With our very first conversation post the N-word situation was the fact that he wanted to learn.”
In early October, he published an essay on his website detailing his efforts, writing that his education since the suspension made him realise “how little I really knew about the African-American experience in this country and racism in general.”
“I understand people who might not know me. They might not believe it or think I’m just checking the box,” he continued in the CBS interview. “I feel like I’ve definitely grown more in these last six months than I have in the 28 years I’ve been alive.
With his reinstatement request pending, Larson also noted that he would not be surprised if it was denied, saying he did not think “it would be too steep of a price to pay. What I said was extremely hurtful and I would fully understand if I was never allowed to race another NASCAR race again.
“But I hope I will get the opportunity to race with them. With that platform, I think I could do some good things.”
Should he be allowed to return, speculation for his 2021 ride point towards the #88 of Hendrick Motorsports, which is being vacated as regular driver Alex Bowman moves to the #48.