Willy T. Ribbs, Nascar driver, drives a DeAtley Motorsports Chevy Camaro at Portland International Raceway in June 1983. (Provided/ Wikimedia.com).
Along with multiple other things, when you think about a NASCAR driver, you automatically assume they are white. Although this is mostly true, there are a few exceptions. Willy T. Ribbs is the first African-American Formula One race car driver.
Ribbs was born in 1955 and began racing when he was 18 years old, during a time that was still hard for blacks in America. Immediately after graduating high school, he started driving Ford cars in Europe and won the Dunlop Championship in his first year.
A year later he moved back to America and won the Pole Position at the Long Beach Formula Atlantic race. In the following three years, Ribbs won 17 Trans-Am races and competed in two NASCAR Winston Cup races and won two races at Columbus and Sears Point in the IMSA series.
Ribbs’ career carried into the early 2000s and he retired in 2001. His success in a sport that blacks weren’t, and in most cases still aren’t, accepted is impressive and it sends a message to the black youth that you can do whatever you want, not just pertaining to sports.
Reaching outside of your comfort zone and doing something that you have a passion for trumps all.
Throughout his career, he received harsh criticism for his “over-bearing” personality, sometimes even from fellow African-Americans in auto racing. Car owner Leonard T. Miller felt that Ribbs wasn’t the best to represent the black community due to his outspoken nature, which is a mindset that still stands today.
Too many in our culture choose to submit to whatever the common opinion is just to fit into a certain lifestyle or group of friends. Those who speak out on injustices and try to create change make the difference.
Ribbs was a misunderstood, but influencial black athlete who touched blacks across the nation. In the Disney Channel cartoon The Proud Family, Penny Proud and her friends all attend “Willy T. Ribbs Middle School,” and the mascot is the racer.
After retiring, he turned into a professional shooter, with a specialization in shooting clays, and his son Theodore Ribbs, is an aspiring sport shooter as well.