Kyle Larson was on the fast-track to a long and successful career in NASCAR. The 28-year-old had won six Cup Series races in the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing and was expected to land a top ride for next season. However, all that changed when Larson used a racial slur in an iRacing event on Easter Sunday.
At the time, Larson says, he did not know that the whole world could hear him, but the fact of the matter is that they did hear what he said. In the following days, the consequences for his language were handed down. Larson's career was derailed as he was released by Chip Ganassi Racing and also suspended and ordered to undergo sensitivity training by NASCAR.
Fast forward to October and the future remains unclear for Larson, who is currently racing on dirt tracks as he looks to return to NASCAR. He has completed the mandatory sensitivity training, hired a diversity coach, spoken with African-American leaders in the sport and traveled across various states to educate himself on matters of race.
Larson detailed all of this in an essay titled 'Kyle Larson: My Lessons Learned', which he posted to his website shortly after the playoff race at Talladega.
"I was rightly suspended by NASCAR," Larson wrote. " I jeopardized the livelihoods of the crew members who had poured their careers into building me fast racecars. My fans were upset. In an instant, I turned a lot of lives upside down and destroyed my own reputation."
"During the NASCAR off-season, I've sometimes competed overseas. On one of these trips, I was around a group that used the N-word casually, almost like a greeting. Of course, it doesn't matter where this happened, how the word was used or what the people around me did. The fact is that the word was said in my presence and I allowed it to happen unchecked. I was ignorant enough to think it was OK, and on the night of the esports event, I used the word similarly to how I'd heard it. As I write this, I realize how ridiculous, horrible and insensitive it all sounds."
Larson is half Japanese and came into NASCAR through its diversity program. His maternal grandparents were held in an internment camp during World War II. He explained that his parents' disappointment affected him, but they helped guide him through the past five months.
"As much as my parents have always believed in me, there's no one who holds me to a higher standard than I do. And I had failed. I wanted to hide. I shut down my social media accounts. In the time of COVID-19, wearing a mask in public actually made me feel more comfortable. It wasn't healthy at all. I needed to take back control."
Some of the people Larson has spoken to over the past few months range from youth group members to fellow drivers such as Bubba Wallace and Willy T. Ribbs. He also toured Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee's community center in St. Louis in addition. Larson said the hardest conversation he had was with Mike Metcalf, an African-American crew member that was on his team for many years.
"The N-word is not mine to use. It cannot be part of my vocabulary," Larson stated. "After I said the N-word, anger came at me from all angles. 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. It motivates me to repay their faith by working harder, not giving up on myself, and making sure something positive comes from the harm I caused."
Larson has received public support from a number of drivers including Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. One of the first people to speak out on behalf of Larson was team owner Tony Stewart.
"NASCAR has gotta get off their ass and do the right thing and give this kid an opportunity to get back in a car," Stewart said in an exclusive interview with CBS Sports. "I think he's paid his penalty and he's served the penalty long enough where you know we've had similar instances in the sport that have happened and the penalties didn't last as near as long as this has lasted with Kyle."
In the essay, Larson expressed that he hopes to be back in NASCAR. Whether that happens -- or happens in a car with a top team -- remains to be seen. Before his abrupt departure from the sport, Larson was considered the favorite to replace Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48. That ride is one of multiple openings remaining in the Cup Series for the 2021 season.
"If he's not in a top-tier ride next year, he'll eventually get back to that point," Kurt Busch told CBS Sports. "I think that's the drive that Larson has. He's got that champion spirit. I see him at a top tier ride. If it's not next year, it'll be in the future."