Larson’s Vegas win isn’t a form of revenge – it’s a redemption story

It’s unanimously agreed that 2020 was a dumpster fire the world over, and NASCAR was not exempt from that assessment. There weren’t any cars on track for a while in the spring, and hardly any fans were able to attend the races. On top of that, there were off-track issues as well – notably the unfortunate instance when Kyle Larson’s utterance of an derogatory racial term cost him his job, his sponsors, and any hope of racing for the 2020 championship.

Not long after, when the world devolved into chaos following George Floyd’s murder, it looked like any immediate hope of Larson returning to a stock car was going to have to wait. So Larson instead took to the dirt, winning several sprint car races and taking some time away from the NASCAR world. However, at the same time, Larson also completed sensitivity training on the way to being reinstated, which he was six months later before signing on with Hendrick Motorsports to drive for their No. 5 team.

While this was going on, the NASCAR world witnessed the rise of one of the drivers as a strong voice in the NASCAR garage – Bubba Wallace. As the only full-time black NASCAR Cup Series driver, Wallace’s words became some of the most profound in the NASCAR community, especially following Floyd’s death, as well as the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. His words became so profound that when they led to NASCAR’s forced removal of the Confederate Flag, he and NASCAR were praised by many across the world.

When a noose was found in his garage area at Talladega over the summer, many believed it was an act of retaliation due to Wallace’s actions. However, when the matter of the noose turned out to be nothing more than a serious coincidence, several detractors sneered and jeered at him, accusing him of “playing a race card” even though cities were in fact burning due to racial violence.

Several of those detractors even went as far as assuming (and asserting) that there were issues between Larson (again, who used a seriously insensitive racial epithet out of ignorance and lost his ride as a result) and Wallace (who became a much needed social activist in NASCAR). This was in spite of the fact that when Larson said what he said, Wallace was one of the first people to talk to him and to come to his defense.

So sure were Wallace’s detractors that Larson was acting on a misplaced matter of revenge, that they either didn’t realize or weren’t paying attention to what Larson was doing away from the track – educating himself on matters of social injustice, so much so that when his sensitivity training ended he continued to visit areas such as the Urban Youth Racing School, volunteering at a food drive in Minnesota, and even visiting the site of Floyd’s death and visiting a memorial at the site.

In short, Larson worked to better understand the plight of those who are socially disadvantaged and to become an ally. He spoke with Wallace, former driver Willy T. Ribbs, and NHRA competitor J.R. Todd. He worked to redeem himself after losing his ride, being publicly humiliated, and being labeled a racist.

“The first lesson: The N-word is not mine to use,” Larson wrote in an essay he released last fall. “It cannot be part of my vocabulary.”

“For far too long, I was a part of a problem that’s much larger than me. I fully admit that losing my job and being publicly humiliated was how I came to understand this. But in the aftermath, I realized that my young kids will one day be old enough to learn about what their daddy said. I can’t go back and change it, but I can control what happens from here on out.”

Larson has shown to all just how hard he’s willing to go to prove himself worthy by scoring three top-10s in the first four races, moving his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 into third in points following his win in Las Vegas on Sunday. After boiling the tires and thanking the fans and his team, one of the first people to meet him in Victory Lane was none other than Wallace.

When Wallace visited Larson in Victory Lane, it spoke volumes as to how far Larson had come. Could Wallace have shunned Larson? Yes. Could the rest of the world shun Larson? Sure. But ultimately, it came down to the simple truth that Larson spoke in ignorance without thinking. People like Wallace recognized this and opened up to help educate Larson, and in return, Larson took the initiative to educate himself for the better. There isn’t any animosity. There isn’t any anger.

Rather, there’s hope. There’s compassion. There’s empathy. All of these things that the world needs more of right now. Not revenge, there’s no revenge here. There’s only redemption for Larson. And although some may think the Vegas win was the cap on it all, if Larson has anything to say about it he’s going to keep working to spread those ideals.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Joseph Shelton
Joseph Shelton
Husband to Stacie and Daddy to Dexter, Aeris, Meredith, and furbabies Lola,Tiny, Lucy, Genesis, Lily, Tommy The Cat, and Ace. Ardent race fan and serious Braves baseball lover.


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