New NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Larson Stands on Platform to Influence Asian American Culture but Once Admitted He Couldn’t Speak the Language of His Japanese Ancestors
NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson has an opportunity to give back to a community he hasn’t always recognized.
The lone Asian American driver happens to be the circuit’s best. He captured the 2021 Cup championship after winning 10 races, plus the $1 million all-star exhibition, and compiling 20 top-five finishes.
He rose in Phoenix after living in disgrace in 2020.
New NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Larson rebounded from a racial slur incident in 2020
Larson’s pit crew handed the No. 5 Chevrolet the lead off the final pit stop of the Championship 4 race on Nov. 7, and he held off perpetual runner-up Martin Truex Jr. to capture his first Cup championship at Phoenix Raceway.
The victorious moment was a long way from the low personal point of the previous year. He learned a life lesson from the humiliation of being suspended and then fired by Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020 for uttering a racial slur during a streamed iRacing event.
To earn his NASCAR union card back, Larson, a minority, went through sensitivity training.
When certain individuals break through social barriers, as Larson did by becoming a Cup Series regular, an inherent pressure sometimes develops and pushes them to attempt to be someone they are not.
It doesn’t appear Larson will fall into that trap.
Larson has reached out to diversity driving programs
Larson has recently dedicated time to causes such as Rev Racing’s D4D program, which provides instruction opportunities for minorities.
Since 2018, Larson has also donated time and resources to the Philadelphia-based Urban Youth Racing School, an association dedicated to introducing minority students to the sport.
But now, he has a new prominent platform, one that offers an opportunity to reach out and inspire an otherwise small NASCAR market: Asian Americans.
There’s an issue, though. Larson grew up in Elk Grove, California, and his Japanese heritage is mostly a mystery. His mother, Janet, is Japanese American, and his grandparents were forcibly detained during World War II at a Tule Lake, California, internment camp.
As of 2018, Larson could not speak Japanese, per The Guardian. He didn’t eat Asian food, either.
“I really don’t know a whole lot about the time my grandparents spent in an internment camp,” Larson told discovernikkei.org earlier in his career. “… Growing up, I didn’t feel any different from my friends or the other kids I raced against. (I) was never treated any differently.”
Larson: ‘Diversity is important for every sport, I think’
One ancient value Larson does practice is the respect he feels for his elders. He recognizes his parents as significant influences.
“(Dad’s) always been there to support me and give me advice both on and off the track,” Larson said. “From the time I started racing, both he and my mom taught me to be respectful of other competitors and encouraged me to have a good attitude regardless of what happened on the track.”
As the lone Asian American driver, Larson recognizes the importance of a diverse industry.
“Diversity is important for every sport, I think,” he said. “I want to compete against the best drivers out there, and the fans want to see the best drivers competing each weekend. It’s neat that I’m maybe playing a small role in drawing a more diverse crowd to the track, and I think it’s important for our sport to continue to grow the fan base.”