Willy T. Ribbs has never met Kyle Larson, but he reached out to the embattled NASCAR driver on Thursday with a phone call and some words of encouragement.
“I just wanted to support him and find out what he’s thinking, and we had a good talk,” said Ribbs on the heels of the racial slur that cost Larson his job in NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing. “I know what setbacks are like and they hurt, and I’ve said some things I regret over the years. But I told him he wasn’t O.J. and he didn’t kill anybody – he just hurt some feelings and they can be repaired.
“I told him it wasn’t the end of his career, it just set it back a little bit.”
Three days removed from the firestorm that followed Larson using the N word to a friend during an iRacing event, then being suspended by NASCAR and released by Ganassi, the first black driver in Indianapolis 500 history sounded compassionate.
“I felt for the kid because you could tell it wasn’t said with malice, and I don’t believe he’s a racist or I wouldn’t have called him,” said Ribbs. “I told him nobody in racing understands the N word more than I do, and I think it was the first time he’s laughed in three days. But there’s the GA version and there’s the deal-breaker version, and it was obvious which version this was.
“I get that the millennials use it a lot nowadays as a term of endearment and it’s slang, but Kyle knows he shouldn’t have said it and I doubt if he ever does again.”
Ribbs was asked if he gave Larson any advice?
“I just told him to keep being a good father and husband, and people will forgive you,” he replied. “Kids make mistakes, and all you can do is show atonement. Yes this is serious, but it’s not the end of the world. I don’t think he needs to go out into the Afro-American communities or go speak to groups, and I told him he was welcome to hang out with me some night and we’ll drive around in my truck and discuss cultures. Right now he just needs to take NASCAR’s diversity program.”
On which he got a head start Wednesday night.
“Kyle said his parents rented ‘Uppity’ and told him to sit down and don’t move,” said Ribbs, speaking of the well-received documentary on Netflix about his racing career, “I told him that was a good start.”