There is an excellent quote about character that will likely be written and attributed differently every time you Google it. But the message is always the same: character is what one does when no one is watching.
Kyle Larson may or may not have heard that. He might have even heard it from those closest to him after blowing up his NASCAR career with the use of a racial slur during a virtual race back in April.
Either way, Larson has been putting in the work to grow away from cameras and publicity. A few days ago, in an unexpected and lengthy post on his website published without promotion, Larson shared the journey he went on to educate himself: a journey of learning the experiences of a Black person in America while further taking responsibility for his actions, and openly expressing the desire to return to the stock car world.
Larson has – as was suggested he needed to do over five months ago – licked his wounds, gone to work on repairing his reputation and found a way to move forward. It was far better than the 42-second apology clip he posted on social media (which he later deleted) only after he began losing the support of the partners on his car.
The 1,793-word post was honest and revealing. Larson named names, recognizing those like Bubba Wallace, Willy T. Ribbs, and J.R. Todd, who have taken the time to speak to him. Naturally, the “toughest” conversation was with Mike Metcalf, a Black man Larson had been around for many years at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Throughout the post, Larson mentioned the places he’s gone and the things done to get a better grasp of the Black community and how he’d hurt people using the N-word.
“In an instant, my career was shattered,” wrote Larson. “I was rightly suspended by NASCAR and fired from my job with a top-tier team. 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.”
Were Larson’s words earth-shattering? No. Was there a part of the post where he seemed to make an excuse or had to explain why he said what he said? Yes. It was the part where Larson mentioned racing overseas during the NASCAR offseason and hearing the word used “casually, almost like a greeting”.
But he also admitted he was ignorant to think it was OK, and Larson used it the same way he heard it. Listening to the audio of Larson from that night, how easily Larson said the word was noticeable.
“As I write this, I realize how ridiculous, horrible and insensitive it all sounds,” he admitted.
Any reasons Larson give shouldn’t be harped upon, given what we all know now about how he has spent the last few months. Larson has proven that he recognizes what he did was wrong, and is invested in being a better person.
It was not as if Larson was suspended, fired, went off to run dirt, and completed sensitivity training only because he had to. Yes, Larson has often obliterated the field in the dirt races he’s run across the country, but while putting in the work to right a wrong. Time to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Larson was rightly punished, and he deserved to be, but he also deserves a second chance.
“This does not need to be the end of Larson’s NASCAR career; there will be those willing to give him a second chance,” I wrote upon his firing. “It’s going to take time, however, to remove the stink he’s placed upon himself and change the way folks now view him. … The future for Larson looks bleak right now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Although it took less than one second to blow up his career, it’s going to take a lot longer for Larson to put it together.”
Don’t misunderstand, though. Just because Larson said what we all wanted to hear doesn’t mean everything is kosher, and we move on.
Reinstatement in NASCAR still awaits, and Larson does not have an announced ride for 2021, although chatter around him potentially signing at Hendrick Motorsports continues. And through all of this, Larson must continue back up these words: “I will not stop listening and learning, but for me now, it’s about action – doing the right things, being a part of the salutation and writing a new chapter that my children will be proud to read.”
It’s nice to see that Larson off to a good start and committed to the cause.