Willy T Ribbs
Willy T Ribbs 3/1/1956Willy T Ribbs, Jr. is an African-American racing driver who competed in many forms of auto racing including the Indy 500 and NASCAR. After retiring, he became a sport shooter in the National Sporting Clays Association.
William Theodore Ribbs, Jr. was born in San Jose, California, to Geraldine and William T. Ribbs, Sr.. And, rather than joining the successful family plumbing business founded by his grandfather in 1927, after graduating from high school he went racing.
He drove Formula Ford in Europe winning the Dunlop Championship before returning to the States a year later where NASCAR owner Will Kronkite hired him to drive his Winston Cup car. However he was fired after skipping two practice sessions.
He moved back to single seaters and raced in Formula Atlantic, taking pole position for the Long Beach race in 1982, leading the race before being sidelined by an engine failure.
In 1983 he switched to SCCA Trans-Am. He won five races and was awarded Rookie of the Year.
The following year, Edsel Ford called and invited him to drive for Jack Roush in the works team. Willy won 17 Trans-Am races, before leaving the series at the end of 1985.
He returned to NASCAR in 1986 with DiGard Racing, but, due to financial problems, the team did not complete the season. Later that year he won two races at Columbus and Sears Point in the IMSA series. Also in 1986, Ribbs became the first Black person to test a Formula One car, with the Brabham team in Estoril, Portugal.
He continued in IMSA in 1987 and 1988 driving the Celica turbo for Dan Gurney's factory Toyota team. He won four races and was named Driver of the Year in both seasons.
In 1989 he drove Dan Gurney's IMSA GTP Eagle HF prototype.
In 1990, Ribbs joined the CART circuit in a car owned by comedian Bill Cosby. He ran his first CART Indy race at Long Beach and in ten races he finished in the top ten twice. The following year he qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 29th position on the final day. Thus becoming the first African-American to qualify for the race.
He raced at Indy again in 1993. And after being released by the team in 1994, he continued in the CART series, finishing in the top 10 at Michigan International Speedway and Denver Grand Prix races.
Ribbs got back into racing in 1998 when he ran the NASCAR Street Race in Los Angeles, challenging Mark Martin for the lead.
In 1999, Ribbs raced in an Indy Racing League event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, finishing 26th after a crash. He then joined the Victoria Motorsports SCCA Trans-Am team. He finished second at Long Beach, third at Detroit and fourth at Las Vegas to clinch the Johnson Controls Triple Crown.
Ribbs signed to drive for Bobby Hamilton Racing in 2000 in the Craftsman Truck Series. Driving 23 out of 24 races, Ribbs had a best finish of 13th, finishing 16th in the final points.
After retiring he turned his hobby of clay pigeon shooting into someting more, a passion he shares with another racing driver, Jackie Stewart. He learned how to shoot accurately on his grandfather's 300-acre ranch in Northern California and in 2004 he finished on the podium at the National Sporting Clays Championshipin.
In 2006 signed to shoot with the Bass Pro Shops' team and is currently competing full time in the National Sporting Clays Association and won a preliminary division this year for the Kruger Cup.
His son Theodore Ribbs is a professional sport shooter. Willy married hotel management executive Stephanie Bauer in August 2018.
Ribbs was featured in the 2020 documentary "Uppity", which is released on Netflix and is well worth watching!