#42: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro McDonald's

Death Penalty For Parking Violations? A Different Take on the Kyle Larson Saga

Most people have heard the story by now of Kyle Larson’s NASCAR suspension for a racial slur used during a streamed iRacing event. One week ago (April 12), the incident wound up costing him millions in sponsorship and his full-time job from Chip Ganassi Racing.

Let me be clear; there is no excuse for Larson using the N-word under any circumstances, especially during a publicly viewed competition. I’ve heard some argue there is a double standard here, considering rappers, for example, use the word all they want. Other people on iRacing may have been guilty of similar or even worse behavior on a regular basis; they just didn’t wind up caught.

For me, the double standard argument has no bearing on Larson’s actual guilt in the matter. But his punishment, while needed, did not fit the crime unless we are going to start considering having the death penalty for parking violations.

KEITH: LARSON’S SLUR BECOMES NASCAR’S PANDEMIC

Let’s tackle the double-standard first. Turn back the clock for a little story from the summer of 1978. My father, who was closer to Archie Bunker than a progressive liberal when it came to race relations, explained it to me with his actions and words. One of his managers at the Plating Shop he supervised was an African-American man named Matt who moved his family to the town of Cicero, Ill. Cicero wasn’t friendly to minority folks back then… and they showed it. All four tires on his truck were frequently damaged when my Dad picked Matt up for work. Riding along, I heard my Dad called “N-Lover” and heard that hateful word thrown at Matt as he walked over to my Dad’s car. I learned at that minute that some words can never come back from their hateful connotation!

Jumping ahead to 2020, younger folks nowadays have become very loose with the use of such language because music lyrics of today are filled with those words. Lost due to the lack of historic context is the fact that double standard exists for a reason! This weekend, I watched the movie “Uppity” which was a documentary about the life and career of Willy T. Ribbs, the first African-American driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 1991. Ribbs was called “Uppity N” and wore that as a badge of honor back then (and still to this day). But white folks who called him that? They were mean-spirited and vile human beings.

The bottom line is double standards never go away! They’re actually important for people who are being victimized by their use to turn them around on the vile human beings of this world.

But the Kyle Larson saga that is unfolding in front of our eyes is a classic example of the type of “all or nothing” punishment that goes on today for such behavior. For example, if you love President Donald Trump, you make excuses for his past actions and comments about women. If you hate Trump, you make excuses for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s past actions towards women. If you watch one news channel, you have one opinion of the world at large while if you watch another, that opinion is 180 degrees different.

BOWLES: ONE NASCAR CAREER SELF-DESTRUCTED BY KYLE LARSON

Larson deserved a suspension, and maybe a long one, to make sure that everyone in the sport gets the message. But unless we are prepared to apply that “all or nothing” logic to everything and have the death penalty for parking violations, we need to learn a little more finesse with how things are handled.

It was so easy for companies like Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Credit One and Clover to cancel their sponsorship of Larson within a day or two of the racial slur being uttered. It’s their money, so they get to decide how to spend it or not to within a sport whose survival depends on corporate backing.

But let’s also take a look at some of Larson’s now former sponsors when it came to race relations. General Motors has had its share of racist problems over the years. Recently, nooses and signs saying “Whites Only” appeared at some of its manufacturing plants across the nation. Until a story hit the national news about this Toledo, Ohio plant it doesn’t appear the company did too much to put a stop to this idiocy.

Now, did everyone decide to boycott GM just like they are shunning Larson? No. The company was simply told to do better and given a chance to show improvement.

Another major Larson partner, McDonald’s Corporation, is currently being sued by several African-American executives who claim they were demoted based on what they called “systematic racial discrimination.” A group of at least 10 current or former minority franchise owners has also filed suit against McDonald’s claiming racial discrimination on the franchise level. There’s a laundry list of transgressions the company is accused of, which, if true, would arguably cause more long-term damage than one word. One mistake.

Let’s say those McDonald’s allegations prove to be true. Should we all boycott them going forward just like they cut ties with Larson? Or will the world keep ordering Big Macs while just demanding them to do better in the future?

Both companies, along with many others, cut ties with Larson as fast as they could. The rationale was to show how attentive they are when it comes to anti-discrimination. But it’s fair to wonder how proactive longtime NASCAR sponsors have been through the years in their efforts to diversify the sport. (Larson, of Japanese-American descent, is a Drive For Diversity graduate).

One of the reasons we didn’t see Willy T. Ribbs as a champion in NASCAR or INDYCAR was because he lacked money. This man beat the best of the best over in England in the Formula Ford Championship and won 17 times in the tough Trans-Am series. That’s back when that division featured some of the best racers in North America in the 1980s. Finding sponsorship at the Trans Am level versus INDYCAR or NASCAR is a huge difference, though, in terms of financing.

Thankfully, Ribbs had supporters such as Jim Trueman (Red Roof Inn Founder), Dan Gurney and Paul Newman who helped him get that far! Many of us fans of the old Trans-Am series loved the brash Willy T. Ribbs who would do the “Ali Shuffle” to celebrate a win and always were shocked sponsors didn’t flock to this flamboyant racer.

While one might say, “Well, that was then and this is now.” Turn the clock forward to the mid-2010s and another young African American driver by the name of Michai Stephens faces the exact same problems.

Stephens won the prestigious Team USA Scholarship (TeamUSASholarship.org) for two years in a row in 2014-15. This program has produced many stars here in the USA over its history that dates back to 1990. Guys like Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Jerry Nadeau, Buddy Rice, Andy Lally, AJ Allmendinger, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly and more have been able to find the sponsorship to excel in INDYCAR, NASCAR and sports car racing. In fact, former winners of the Team USA Scholarship swept every North American open-wheel title this season.

Maybe, instead of just being part of the cancel culture pandemic taking place in our country right now, these sponsors involved could have come up with a unique strategy with Larson. Instead of shunning him and looking like “Woke” corporations by quickly cutting their ties, they could have continued their relationship with the driver. To learn from his mistake, they could have compelled him to coach and commit money to help sponsor young African-American racers trying to make it in today’s racing world. They could have fined Larson a significant amount of money, but matched those fines to commit to using this bad incident to make a difference in sport’s diversity down the road!

Larson is guilty of being stupid and careless, using a racial slur in the midst of NASCAR simply try to survive like the rest of us during this global pandemic. He deserved a suspension and serious financial ramifications for his actions. But the corporations that cut their ties with him so fast have hardly done their part to make auto racing a more diverse sport.

Unless we all support death penalties for parking violations, we need to find a middle ground between the “all or nothing” solutions we are being offered to everything in today’s society.

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About Dennis Michelsen

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Dennis a.k.a. DMIC has been covering NASCAR racing since 1998. After spending 23 years as a professional weather forecaster, Dennis still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he started covering auto racing full time. He is the moderator of the Race Track Business Conference - an all-day educational seminar covering the business of speed - and is the owner of DMIC Media & Marketing where he spends his time mouthing off about all kinds of sports. He is also the play-by-play voice for the professional Ultimate Disc team the Chicago Wildfire of the American Ultimate Disc League. Dennis can be heard every Saturday on The Final Inspection on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, Wis. talking NASCAR, and you can listen on the Radio.com app.

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28 comments

  1. Avatar

    Rightly or wrongly I perceive this to be just another attempt to justify Larson’s actions with the old they did it too argument.

    Yes, the corporate landscape is littered with companies that fell short of our expectations. And we the consumers can hold them accountable by choosing to not buy their products. Sadly it seems that we ofttimes fail to do so but that is our problem.

    Likewise companies can choose who or what they support. And in this case they choose not to support an individual, which is their right.

    As for the rest, Nascar and the race team, what they did was irrelevant. Without the corporate money he was done.

    The spin machine will manufacture another next great thing to take his place and the show will go on. another

  2. Avatar

    i guess all you people want to be like CHICAGO ,DETROIT ,BALTIMORE . those wonderful city’s

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      no but maybe we dont want to use that as an excuse.

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        The N word used only by a specific group is very insulting to the black community. What larson did was poor choice of words and got punished not based on the impact of what the said word did but what it meant when its was used in a much different way years ago. An apology and donation was enough to satisfy his offense. End of story

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          I dont think we, or Larson for that matter, get to decide what satisfies the offense.

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          Yeah, that decision is left to the twitter mob, which is basically, “death to anyone who doesn’t adhere to my views”.

    • Avatar

      Ben,
      What if the sophisticated residents of Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore called out your Deep South for being slow and dim-witted. See, it doesn’t make sense to generalize and name check. I’ve always felt if you are an American, then you are my brother. Geography has little to do with it. When somebody asks me how I’m doing I always answer the same: “It’s a great day to be an American”!!

  3. Avatar

    All dogmatic knee-jerk promotion of some arbitrary ideology one finds oneself connected to amounts to some form of exclusion of “them” from “us”. The very idea you can tell the character of a person from the words they use is absurd. Ya, I get speaking is an act, but if it is out in the open and can be confronted then we can correct without needing to bring down the PC hammer. Human beings are all “racist” to the core, it is in our DNA, we define ourselves by our enemies, good or bad, we fear unexpected difference and change most of all. The only way this stops is if we stop codemning others and start confronting our own crappy behaviours. Fascism is knocking and anyone paying attention understands 1/2 of the people would instill it in a second if they were the ones making up and enforcing the rules. The only problem we have in this world is growing economic and social disparity, beyond this racism is a strawman, a red herring even. Address the economic and social disparities regardless as to colour, clan or creed, now we will see how people can overcome, but that will never happen, why “Because, the Internet”.

    • Avatar

      Are you kidding me?

      It is stunning the amount of people here defending these actions.

      its simple.

      He slipped up. One person accidentally saying it is not the end of the world. Singing a rap song drunk at the bar and let loose a soft r ‘ni&&a’, well, not ideal if you are white, but not the end of the world.

      The other end of the gauge is saying it in anger with the purpose of demeaning a black person. Thats straight racism.

      And this brings us to Kyle’s remark. Was he saying it in jest? Or was there some attitude? And yes, that does make a difference, especially when we consider he is a white race driver of the ‘good ole boy’ NASCAR.

      Does it mean Larson is a racist? No… not alone. But does it mean he should be the spokesperson for you company, or the leader of your raceteam? Sure. If this guy is gonna drop the N-word over a tiny bit over trouble during an important online race practice (practice!), why would you want him to be steering multi million dollar investments??? What will he say in excitement in the car, or drunk at the bar?

      And if you all need to confuse this with being racist, you have gone too far. The word is very offense to a group of people. Why not respect their wishes? We do it all the time when we know things are offenses to different cultures, or different religions. Why can’t you simply not use the N-word? Its down to being a decent human being. And for some to say “Well, they say it in Chicago and Baltimore”… That is so idiotic I am almost unsure what to say. Its a downright childish response, especially from the people saying it.

      And to the title of this article; This is not Kyle being given the death penalty for a parking infraction. This was Kyle shooting himself in the head for no reason. No one did this to him. We all know Sponserships is where the money comes from, and who wants a sponsor that may slip up? And then your excuse is that his sponsors have also had race-relation issues, so who are they to drop them? Honestly, they are likely the companies that understand the most how must those issues can hurt.

      Lets get it real simple. He may have been a good driver, but there will be other good drivers. If everyone here wants to forgive his mistake so quickly, then you should all pony up the money for a car for him to race.

      Second guessing people with actual skin in the game is the only thing dumber than arguing that racism doesn’t exist and the N-word is no big deal

      • Avatar

        Yeah but many of us don’t think the shot was to the head. It was actually a misfire that grazed his pinky toe. However a certain segment wants to make sure it was ultimately a deadly shot (lead poisoning I guess).

        So who actually got hurt? Besides Kyle Larson who is worse off today then they were the day before? Where are the victims?

        • Avatar

          When the people that pay the money that provide your livlihood turn their back on you en masse, including the employer that puts you in the limelight every weekend – its a shot to the head.

          Some people may say thats extreme, but it doesn’t matter. That ship has sailed.

          If hes invested well he will still lead a very comfortable life. But his 15 minutes of fame is over.

        • Avatar

          The question isn’t has it been made to be a shot to the head, the question is should it have been a shot to the head. In a just world the punishment should fit the crime. Did it? Was a crime even committed?

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          God forgives when one repents. Obviously NASCAR, Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet, McDonalds, Credit One & all those that are perfect don’t forgive. Too much hate which don’t fit the crime.

    • Avatar

      I agree and the internet is the driving force for a very small percentage of people on the far left and far right. This minority of internet users do not define what the American people represent but their own twisted agenda.

      • Avatar

        YES! The internet and social media has ensured more than ever that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. A vocal, persistent few can now steer public policy.

        • Avatar

          The example that comes immediately to mind, but there are others, is Don Imus.

          A classic example of the person who did it doesn’t chose the terms of forgiveness.

  4. Avatar

    This is NASCAR’s version of th MeToo Movement. Rush to judgement, over react and ruin a career because it was politically incorrect and inappropriate in other contexts or times. Capital punishment for traffic ticket is absolutely correct. This era of political correctness has gotten out of control…common sense be damned.

  5. Avatar

    Very well put. Excellent argument. And I agree. Kyle Larson screwed up. The N word is going to get someone in trouble. And the connotations are horrible.

    There is definitely a problem with the fact that the word is now such a part of our pop culture as the result of rappers that it has lost a lot of it’s negative connotations. Many younger kids haven’t seen the type of racism that they saw back in 1978 in small towns. Racism exists and there is understanding and knowledge of that. But it isn’t what it was. And attempts by the African American community to reclaim the word has been successful to the point where there has been some desensitizing to the power of the word.

    But, regardless of that, we know in general that using the term is going to get someone in trouble. And Kyle Larson did deserve a certain level of punishment. I would think no more than suspension from NASCAR while taking sensitivity training, a large fine and maybe loss of points. But, I was shocked when suddenly many of his sponsors jumped ship. It just didn’t seem to make any sense. Kyle has been a great representative for all of his sponsors, for Chevy, for CGR, for NASCAR and for dirt racing. So, to see everyone abandon him so quickly was extremely disappointing.

    And you are absolutely right. These sponsors don’t exactly have clean records themselves, and yet aren’t paying nearly the price that Kyle is paying. The fact that Kyle would be treated like this is disgusting, in my view. Justice needed to be served. Unfortunately, the result has been absolute injustice. I hope that he can rebuild his career after all of this. He is a great driver, and as far as I am concerned a great guy. I don’t believe he is racist in the slightest. He was not using the word to smear anyone. That doesn’t mean it was okay for him to say it, but I do believe it puts him on better footing than someone who outright tells people they are that word. Context does matter.

    I hope everyone can look beyond this mistake, can forgive him and we can move on. He has paid the price. It’s been steep. Too steep. But he has now paid it. Hopefully the future is brighter.

  6. Avatar

    The punishment does not fit the crime.

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      What crime?

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        Exactly, not really a crime. Let me reword. The punishment does not fit “his horrible wrong doing”. And it was wrong, but he should not lose all sponsors and he shouldn’t have been fired. I think a fine, sensitivity training, and the apology that he has alteady given should be enough. He made a mistake, everybody makes them. He is only human. He deserves a second chance.

        • Avatar

          Yep. Basically the only damage done was, possibly, some hurt feelings or offensive language.
          Not that I would (I was brought up during the “sticks and stones” era) but do I get to ruin someone’s life every time someone says something that I don’t like?
          I am content to just flip them off and be done with it.

  7. Avatar

    Well written article

  8. Avatar

    I guess what is the strangest thing about society shown with Larsens punishment is the hypocrisy.

    Yes very bad and stupid thing to say; and only himself to blame. His actions however could only result in hurt feelings. Yes, very valid reasons for hurt feelings; but harmless on there own.

    There are other NASCAR drivers, other sports people, or any celebrities really; that have been convicted of drunk or dangerous driving. Those actions could have had significant and ‘Real’ consequences for other people. Those always get glossed over and forgotten within months.

    Two of his competitors have been convicted of such and basically had slapped wrists.

  9. Avatar

    It’s a word! People need to get a grip! I’m not defending Larson, to me this is simple and people are turning into a lunching! Destroying a kids career?! For a fucking word?!?! Yes it was wrong, damn right it was wrong! But it’s still just a word! What the Hell happen to sticks and stones?! People really need to grow up and get a grip! It’s a word! Just a word!!! There’s not one person in the world that hasn’t said that word or told offensive jokes!! But to cost the boy his career over a word!!
    Get a grip people!!

  10. Avatar

    F-word, N-word, B-word, C-word…What the hell. 99.99% of thinking people know what you are not saying so they say it in their own mind. Cut the crap. Say the words and get on with it. If you meant it in a bad way then the context will be clear and people can rightfully kick your ass. If you didn’t mean it in a bad way then who gives a F-word.