The smile is still the same, and his unmistakably razor sharp wit is clearly intact. Just 64 years young, he remains on top of his game, which is, and will always be, holding the throttle wide open on any race car he drives. Yes, William Theodore Ribbs Jr. is still one helluva story, and with the final chapter nowhere in sight, I took yet another opportunity to visit with him as he competed in the 2019 Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, where he finished first in the Vintage Race of Champions Charity Pro Am Aug. 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Paired with amateur teammate Edward Sevadjian, Ribbs brought the 950 horsepower, 1969 Chevrolet Corvette home without a scratch on it, in a race that pits production class Camaros, Mustangs and Corvettes against each other from the vintage years of 1963 to 1972. Ribbs, who was all smiles in Victory Circle as he administered a champagne shower on everyone celebrating, did not lose track of the significance of competing at the Cathedral of Motor Sports and paid homage to the famed facility quickly after getting out of his car.
“Winning any event at the greatest race track in the world is a big deal, and we were able to do that,” stated the two-time Indianapolis 500 starter, after conquering the 2.439-mile road course at IMS, just ahead of second place finisher and 2000 Brickyard 400 winner Bobby Labonte, in a race that benefits the Morgan Adams Foundation which provides support for pediatric cancer research.
As the first African American to break the color barrier at IMS in 1991, the former Trans Am Series phenom now looks to other areas for competitive challenges, such as sport shooting in the National Sporting Clays Association, where both he and his son excel.
But it’s still auto racing that makes this talented, charismatic, and sometimes controversial individual tick, and even in the late stages of his driving career, the fire still burns to compete. “I’d travel to Siberia to race if I had to,” added Ribbs as he prepared to leave Indianapolis for his ranch in Texas. Something tells me he would.
Pit pass: While driving a race car still motivates Ribbs, he is extremely proud of the upcoming documentary of his life story. It’s titled, “Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story,” and was produced and directed collectively by Adam Carolla and Nate Adams. It chronicles Ribbs’ life from a young child growing up in California and throughout his remarkable racing career. While many call him the Jackie Robinson of racing, he remains modest in terms of his accomplishments, while outspoken in terms of the trials and tribulations he has experienced in his career. The documentary will be released nationally during Black History Month in February 2020.
The SVRA event at IMS is a great way to enjoy racing cars of yesteryear. Tony Parella, president and CEO of the organization told me he had recently finalized a new three-year deal to extend the event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Good news, indeed.
Danny Bridges, who is confident that Willy T. Ribbs never had a ride in open wheel racing that was as good as his talent, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.