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Willy T. Ribbs

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Information about Willy T. Ribbs

Profile image of Willy T. Ribbs

Profession

Category:
SportsMakers
Occupation(s):
Race Car Driver

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Barbecue
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Australia
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/3/1956
Birth Location:
San Jose, California

Profession

Category:
SportsMakers
Occupation(s):
Race Car Driver

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Barbecue
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Australia
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/3/1956
Birth Location:
San Jose
See how Willy T. Ribbs is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

William Theodore Ribbs, Jr. was born on January 3, 1956, in San Jose, California, to Geraldine and William T. Ribbs, Sr. Rather than managing the successful family plumbing business founded by his grandfather in 1927, Willy T. Ribbs races cars professionally. He is the first African American to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and one of the only African American NASCAR racers.

Ribbs' love of cars and racing began at the age of four. At age nine, Ribbs worked as a ranch hand on his grandfather's ranch. His first foray into motorsports was driving Formula Ford cars in Europe soon after his high school graduation in 1975. He won the Dunlop Championship in his first year of competition, then returned to the United States and raced Formula Atlantic cars. Ribbs won the pole in the Long Beach Formula Atlantic race in 1982, outpacing veteran drivers before his engine failed. In 1983, he won five races in the SCCA Trans-Am and was honored as Pro Rookie of the Year. After competing in two NASCAR Winston Cup races in 1986, financial difficulties including the lack of corporate sponsorship kept his team from finishing the season.

In 1989, Bill and Camille Cosby stepped in and funded the Raynor-Cosby Motorsports team with Ribbs as the star driver. Ribbs won two top-ten events in his 1990 Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) Indianapolis debut. In 1991, he became the first African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and he qualified again in 1993. However, by 1994 it was clear that corporate sponsors were not yet willing to back an African American motorsports athlete, despite Cosby's offer of free television commercials in return for sponsorship. Ribbs was released from his Indianapolis 500 contract and spent the year competing in the CART series, finishing in the top ten at Michigan and Denver Grand Prix races.

In 1999, Ribbs raced in the Las Vegas Indy Racing League (IRL). In 2000, he signed with Victoria Motorsports SCCA Trans-Am team and finished second at Long Beach, third at Detroit and fourth at Las Vegas. He was awarded the Johnson Triple Crown. In 2001, Ribbs joined the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the support of Dodge, which initiated a motorsports diversity program to provide opportunities for minorities to race. This made Ribbs the first African American in the modern era to compete full-time in a major NASCAR division. Ribbs successfully raised his two children, Sasha and William Theodore Ribbs, III as a single parent.

See how Willy T. Ribbs is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating for Willy Ribbs interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Willy Ribbs lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Willy Ribbs recalls his mother's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Willy Ribbs remembers his paternal grandfather
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Willy Ribbs relates how he and his father became interested in auto racing
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Willy Ribbs lists his siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Willy Ribbs shares childhood memories
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Willy Ribbs describes his first experience with driving cars
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Willy Ribbs explains why he loved driving fast
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Willy Ribbs recounts getting in trouble, and racing at the ranch
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Willy Ribbs discusses driving fast and taking corners
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Willy Ribbs recalls learning to take corners
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Willy Ribbs discusses race car drivers he admires
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Willy Ribbs details the history of the Indy 500
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Willy Ribbs recounts how Bill Cosby helped him become the first black race car driver in the Indy 500
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Willy Ribbs explains why Bill Cosby helped him
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Willy Ribbs remembers his experience in the Indy 500
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Willy Ribbs illustrates Bill Cosby's influence at the Indy 500
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Willy Ribbs recalls qualifying for the Indy 500
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Willy Ribbs describes his qualifying run for the Indy 500
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Willy Ribbs describes Bill Cosby's reaction to his trial run at the Indianapolis 500
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Willy Ribbs describes the emotions of being in the Indy 500
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Willy Ribbs discusses racism in auto racing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Willy Ribbs describes his paternal grandfather's attitude and education
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Willy Ribbs discusses Shaquille O'Neal
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Willy Ribbs describes his desire to race, along with his paternal grandfather's and his father's attitudes towards racing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Willy Ribbs discusses getting speeding tickets as a youth
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Willy Ribbs describes his experiences in England
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Willy Ribbs discusses the risk and racism in auto racing
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Willy Ribbs lists the different levels of cars and races
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Willy Ribbs recalls how he won corporate sponsorship
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Willy Ribbs explains corporate sponsorship
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Willy Ribbs relates how Paul Newman helped him gain pro sponsorship
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Willy Ribbs shares his early successes in auto racing
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Willy Ribbs explores the nature of racism in sports and auto racing
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Willy Ribbs describes his relationship with Dan Gurney
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Willy Ribbs reflects on being the first black Indy 500 driver
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Willy Ribbs ponders his future
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Willy Ribbs condemns racism in auto racing
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Willy Ribbs talks about fatherhood
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Willy Ribbs ponders his legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Willy Ribbs explains what makes a great race car driver
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Willy Ribbs reflects on what he thinks and feels before and during a race
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Willy Ribbs describes auto racing from the inside
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Willy Ribbs expresses why he loves auto racing
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Willy Ribbs disusses his values, and young athletes today
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Willy Ribbs remembers Jim Brown and other role models
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Willy Ribbs discusses movie rights and his legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Willy Ribbs reflects on his paternal grandfather's influence
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Willy Ribbs discusses future plans
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Photo - Willy Ribbs wins Driver of the Race award at Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, 1986
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' paternal grandparents, Henry and Nora Ribbs, Santa Clara, California
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Photo - Willy Ribbs and Robert Unser, ca. 1986
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Photo - Willy Ribbs at a banquet with his mother, Geraldine Ribbs, and father, William Ribbs, 1977
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Willie Brown, Sacramento, California, 1983
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Photo - Theo Ribbs, son of Willy Ribbs, 1993
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs and his brother, Phillip Ribbs, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1991
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Photo - Tony George, Pat Boone, and Willy T. Ribbs at the Indianapolis International Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Indiana, May 1991
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Photo - Chris Cord, Dan Gurney, Willy Ribbs, and Pam Meadows, ca. 1995
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Photo - Willy Ribbs at the London Hilton with Muhammad Ali and Hanna Ali, London, England, 1977
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Photo - Willy Ribbs winning Driver of the Year Award, 1977
  • Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Photo - Willy Ribbs' grandfather, Henry Ribbs, at his ranch in Santa Clara, California, ca. 1984
  • Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Photo - Willy Ribbs in the Detroit Grand Prix, Detroit, Michigan, 1993
  • Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Nancy Wilson, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1995
  • Tape: 6 Story: 15 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Paul Newman, Watkins Glen, New York, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 16 - Photo - Gary Reed, Dan Gurney, Willy Ribbs, Chris Cord, Les Unger, and Rick Wilson
  • Tape: 6 Story: 17 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Nelson Piquet, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1992
  • Tape: 6 Story: 18 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Bob Riley, 1984
  • Tape: 6 Story: 19 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with his mother, Geraldine Ribbs, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 20 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with his grandfather, Henry Ribbs, Sears Point, California, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 21 - Photo - Willy Ribbs with Bill Cosby, ca. 1995
  • Tape: 6 Story: 22 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs at the Monterey Grand Prix, Monterey, California, 1990
  • Tape: 6 Story: 23 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs and classmates, San Jose, California, 1965
  • Tape: 6 Story: 24 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs, his teacher, and classmates, San Jose, California, 1963
  • Tape: 6 Story: 25 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with his daughter, Sasha Ribbs, Sears Point, California, 1988
  • Tape: 6 Story: 26 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' daughter, Sasha Ribbs, his father, William Ribbs Sr., and his son, Theo Ribbs, 1999
  • Tape: 6 Story: 27 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with his cousin, Don Kern, at the Daytona 500, Daytona, Florida, 2001
  • Tape: 6 Story: 28 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' grandfather, Henry Ribbs, his brother, Phil Ribbs, and others at the Sears Point Grand Prix, Sears Point, California, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 29 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs at a press conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1986
  • Tape: 6 Story: 30 - Photo - Ribbs Lane, San Jose, California
  • Tape: 6 Story: 31 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with his sister Alma, brother Steve, cousin Brenda, and sister Vicky, Santa Clara, California, ca. 1963
  • Tape: 6 Story: 32 - Photo - Reverend Jesse Jackson with his son, Jesse Jackson Jr.
  • Tape: 6 Story: 33 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Leroy Neiman, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1995
  • Tape: 6 Story: 34 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs races for Ford, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 35 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs in the Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, 1986
  • Tape: 6 Story: 36 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Tom Gloy, Wally Dallenbach, and Paul Miller, Sears Point, California, 1985
  • Tape: 6 Story: 37 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' grandfather's (Henry Ribbs) ranch, Santa Clara, California
  • Tape: 6 Story: 38 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Bob Anderson, Rookie of the Year award, 1983
  • Tape: 6 Story: 39 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Phil Hill and Dan Gurney, Riverside, California, ca. 1962
  • Tape: 6 Story: 40 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs on the Cosby Racing Team, 1990
  • Tape: 6 Story: 41 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Dan Gurney's racing team, 1989
  • Tape: 6 Story: 42 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with Dan and Marilyn Quayle, Eric Walter, and Gerald Bogan
  • Tape: 6 Story: 43 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' grandfather's ranch, Santa Clara, California
  • Tape: 6 Story: 44 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, San Franciso, California, 1995
  • Tape: 6 Story: 45 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' son, Theo, and daughter, Sasha, San Jose, California
  • Tape: 6 Story: 46 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs with his daugher, Sasha Ribbs, Miami, Florida, 1986
  • Tape: 6 Story: 47 - Photo - Willy T. Ribbs' son, Theo, his daughter, Sasha, with their mother, Suzanne