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Bill Lester, III

Race car driver Bill Lester, III was born on February 6, 1961 in Washington D.C. to William Alexander Lester, Jr., an electrical engineering professor and researcher at IBM Corporation, and Rochelle Lester, a social worker and elementary school teacher. Lester graduated from Skyline High School in Oakland, California in 1979, and was awarded a Regents Scholarship to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his B.S. degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1984.

Lester began his career as a project manager at Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto, California. In 1985, Lester attended Sports Cars Club of America driving school; and that same year, he was named SCCA’s Rookie of the Year for Northern California, winning the SCCA Regional Road Racing Championship in 1986. He made his International Motor Sports Association debut in 1989, finishing twelfth at Sears Point International Roadway race, part of IMSA’s GTO Series. In 1998 and 1999, Lester competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona race, finishing fifth and tenth respectively. In 1999, Lester became the first African American to race in NASCAR’s Busch Series, where he represented Team Rensi Motorsports and finished in twenty-first place. In 2000, Lester raced in the No. 8 Dodge Ram in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series for Bobby Hamilton Racing. In 2002, he began racing in the Craftsman Truck Series full-time in the No. 8 Dodge Ram. Lester switched to Bill Davis Racing in 2004; and in 2006, he began racing in the No. 22 Toyota Tundra. Lester became the first African American since 1986 to participate in the Nextel Cup at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He switched to Billy Ballew Motorsports for a season before leaving NASCAR racing in 2007.

The following year, Lester joined Southard Motorsports, where he drove in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series from 2008 to 2010. Lester spent the 2009 season with Orbit Racing and the 2010 season racing for Starworks Motorsport. In 2011, Lester became the first African American driver to win any Grand-Am division. After retiring as a driver, Lester served as a member of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel as well as the NASCAR Diversity Council.

Lester and his wife, Cheryl, have two sons, William Alexander IV and Austin Richard.

Bill Lester, III was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 10, 2018.

Accession Number

A2018.039

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/10/2018

Last Name

Lester

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Booksin Elementary School

Edwin Markham Middle School

Skyline High School

University of California, Berkeley

First Name

Bill

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

LES02

Favorite Season

Summer

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Brazil

Favorite Quote

It's The Little Things

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

2/6/1961

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Favorite Food

Lasagna

Short Description

Race car driver Bill Lester, III (1961 - ) competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the Nextel Cup Series, the Rolex Sports Car Series, and was the first African American to race in the NASCAR Busch Series.

Employment

Bill Lester Racing

Finish Line Investing

Hewlett-Packard

Favorite Color

Blue

Willy T. Ribbs

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.

Accession Number

A2002.045

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/1/2002

Last Name

Ribbs

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

T.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Hyde Park Academy High School

James McEntee Science and Technology Academy

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Depends on Schedule

First Name

Willy

Birth City, State, Country

San Jose

HM ID

RIB01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

Knight Foundation

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Australia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

1/3/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue

Short Description

Race car driver Willy T. Ribbs (1956 - ) was the first African American race car driver to participate in NASCAR and was the first African American to compete in the Indianapolis 500. In 1989, Bill and Camille Cosby funded the Raynor-Cosby Motorsports team with Ribbs as the star driver.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

5$3

DATitle
Willy Ribbs relates how he and his father became interested in auto racing
Willy Ribbs describes the emotions of being in the Indy 500
Transcript
Now, how did your father get interested in racing? Do you know that story?$$My dad [William T. Ribbs, Sr.], growing up here in San Jose [California], one of his best friends was a--when he was growing up, was a gentleman named Joe Leonard. And Joe Leonard was, Joe was racing motorcycles at that time. And Joe was one of the best motorcycle racers this country had ever seen. He was eight-time champion. My dad was racing motorcycles too. This is before I was born. And, so Joe and dad were big buddies. So when Joe got out of motorcycling--he was too old to ride one--so he went on to race cars, and he was two-time Indy [Indianapolis 500] car champion. He nearly won Indy in 1968. Nine laps from the end, the car broke down. Joe Leonard was a family friend, and so that sort of, you know, my dad, because of his relationship with Joe at an early age, they were both racing. So dad, that's how he got into racing. And my grandfather's company [Ribbs Plumbing] had the money to support my dad's racing hobby. So that's how, you know, dad got into it. And, and, of course, I grew up in it, and dad, you know, as kids we had everything we wanted. We had eight motorcycles and five go-carts. And we had pretty much everything we wanted. But I didn't want to work in the business. I mean my grandfather [Henry Ribbs] was really bent out of shape about that. He was pissed (laughter). Oh, he didn't like that at all. He, he was--as far as he was concerned, "I founded the business in 1927 when black men, they didn't let you, you know, do anything hardly but shine shoes in 1927." And his theory was, "Look, I worked; I started a company. I built this company up, and I want you to be, to take over, you know, be in line to take over the company." And I, I didn't--that was not the direction I wanted to go in.$So you qualified, but then after the qualification, qualify--?$$After the qualifying is over, you're--it, it's, it's almost anticlimactic because the toughest thing about Indy [the Indianapolis 500] is being in the race. That's the hardest thing, because there's seventy-five guys that are hurting themselves, that are borderline killing themselves. And drivers, many drivers have gotten killed trying just to be in the race. Forget about the race. They got killed in practice or they got killed in qualifying for, you're there a month. And everyday you wake up, you go to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you know you've got to run 200 and plus miles per hour, 220, every day for a month. See, it's easy to do that for three days, go out there, you know, not a whole lot of risk, just don't do any--but for a month? Something is bound to happen, whether it's a driver error or mechanical failure, something's bound to happen. And that wall is just waiting. That wall just sits there patiently. And the wall's never lost a battle, never. And it was very intense from that standpoint. You had to--and, and you had to sleep. You couldn't go home after, you know, you--cause it was a routine. You're at the track all day practicing, qualify, prac--I mean practice, practice, practice. Then you'd go out to dinner with sponsors or you'd go out to dinner with media or whomever, right. And then you go back to your condo and go to sleep, and you wake up. And you're on the track from eleven a.m. to six every day. But you know when you go to sleep, you got to go fast the next day. Now, you're thinking to yourself, well, nothing happened today. What's tomorrow gonna bring? Are the dis--the, what it did--when Indy was over, when that month of May in 1991 was over, the race was anticlimactic. I mean when you qualify on Sunday, you're off all week cause it's all media. It's like the Super Bowl, all media and all interviews and then they get ready. You don't drive any more until that next weekend, when the race starts. And when I left Indy when the race was over, I had a mechanical failure so I didn't finish the race, which was sort of a letdown, but that happens to a lot of driver--and the best of them all have mechanical failures. When it was over, it was almost sad. It was, it was almost depressing because you were in such, you were in such an intense environment and so, everything was so huge. And when the race was over after a month, I mean I, I mean almost wanted to cry, like, "Damn, it's over." It's--I'm leaving Indianapolis [Indiana]. I mean, it was like going to war. It's like, you're--I've been asked many times, "What's it like to go to Indianapolis and be there and be in the biggest race on the planet?" It's like going to war. It's the best I could describe it. And either--you know, when you go to war, you can either come back injured or dead or come back alive. And that was the feeling.