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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Willy T. Ribbs says there's much work to do on the matter of diversity in autosports

Willy T. Ribbs was the first Black driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500.
Credit: WTHR
Willy T. Ribbs

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s been a lot of conversation lately about the lack of diversity in the sport of auto racing.

13News spoke with Willy T. Ribbs, a former driver and team owner who was the first Black driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500. 

A trailblazer, Ribbs says we’ve got a long way to go.

“That’s not why I became a race driver,” Ribbs said. “I drove race cars to win, and I did a lot of winning and it was all over the world, from Formula Four to IMSA to TransAm. It was about one thing. It was about winning.

“Muhammad Ali said to me ‘You’re going to deal with some challenges for one reason only, you’re in an all-White sport.’ When the film 'Uppity' came out, it gave me a lot of time to reflect. I kept looking at it and I kept thinking ‘Wow, I went through that,' and it brought everything back, 40 years. Everything came back, all 40 years. It was a great ride, and along the way, great people in my life," said Ribbs.

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13News Sports Director Dave Calabro asked Ribbs about driver Bubba Wallace and the support he has recently received from fellow drivers.

“Well, I think if it wasn’t for George Floyd’s death, you wouldn’t hear any of this. The flag would still be flying. That’s the reality of it. That was a reactive move. It wasn’t proactive, and it pushed Bubba out there. He’s out there and he’s going to have, he better have a bullet-proof vest on. Not literally. He better have alligator skin or it’s going to be real tough," said Ribbs. "NASCAR, though, should be, and not just in words, Jim France, Lisa France, Mike Helton, they need to be standing up right next to him in a press room, saying ‘This is what we’re going to do, we stand by him,' and we’ll see if there’s some sincerity there."

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Ribbs is involved in the call for change. In fact, he has a meeting with Roger Penske in the next couple of weeks.