As if racing in 2020 could get any more strange.
NASCAR's most successful graduate of its Drive for Diversity young driver program now has his own diversity coach to help him deal with diversity in the workplace.
Kyle Larson, who used a racial slur during a iRacing event on April 12 and was promptly dropped by sponsors and suspended indefinitely by NASCAR in the span of about 24 hours, feels he's paid the price and wants back in the Cup club.
Earlier this month, Larson posted a 1,783-word statement that apologized for his actions but also explained the steps he's taken since his banishment to dirt track racing. With the season winding down, Larson knows teams are getting their driver plans in order for 2021. Whether or not he has a ride for 2021 lined up (unofficially, of course), teams need to know his status.
Larson, 27, began what will sure to be a media blitz of sorts when he went on CBS This Morning on Oct. 16 to talk about his incident that started with in-race banter between Larson and fellow NASCAR Cup driver Bubba Wallace during the online race in April.
"I had raced with him in Australia and the group that we were with kinda used the word casually as a greeting. I didn't use it as a way to degrade or insult anyone," Larson told CBS This Morning. "I guess I didn't think of how it took African Americans and ... took them back to slavery and things like that, and injustice and stuff they've had to work so hard to overcome," he said.
It's been quite a career tumble for Larson, who will likely be a public relations challenge for any potential sponsors going forward. He is a six-time winner in the Cup Series and a member of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity class of 2012. The program on its web page posts its mission statement:
NASCAR Diversity & Inclusion strives to create an inclusive environment in all facets of the NASCAR industry recognizing the value of diversity, which allows us to go faster and farther in our workplaces, at the race track and in the stands.
Larson must have missed that memo.
The Drive for Diversity has been around since 2004 and has included a little more than 100 drivers. Few have made it to NASCAR's highest levels. The most successful graduates are Larson, Wallace (Class of 2010 and 2011) and Daniel Suarez (Class of 2013 and 2014). Former IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher was in the program in 2005.
NASCAR has to be a bit embarrassed that Larson, whose mother is Japanese-American, is the middle of such a controversy. After all, Larson was supposed to be one NASCAR's shining examples of the sport's diversity and inclusivity.
"I’m half Japanese," Larson writes on his website. "My parents are an interracial couple who have gotten disapproving stares and been made to feel uncomfortable just for being together. And all of a sudden, they were being asked why their 27-year-old Asian-American son said something racist. My maternal grandparents were held in an internment camp during World War II. There’s absolutely no excuse for my ignorance."
Now, Larson has reportedly hired a Diversity Coach, Doug Harris, CEO of the Kaleidoscope Group.
“I leave people better than I found them; and I do it with love," Harris says on his website.
Larson says that he's learning from Harris.
"There’s no B.S. with Doug," Larson says on his website. "He gives it to you straight, even if it’s uncomfortable. He is a Black man with seven kids, and the conversations he has to have with them about things like driving around town and interacting with police when they’re pulled over—not if they’re pulled over, but when—gave me a level of awareness I hadn’t had before, but it also made me realize the kind of privilege I’ve taken for granted.
"I mean, my livelihood is literally driving. Everyone should have someone in their life who will talk to them like Doug talks to me."
Larson is listening and learning.
He just hopes NASCAR is taking note.
If you were a sponsor, would you be anxious to jump on board for Kyle Larson's eventual return to the NASCAR Cup Series? Love to hear what you think. Join in the conversation in the comments section below.