Saturday, June 03, 2006

Willy T. Who?

He was a major star in Trans-Am racing in the 1970s for Jack Roush, but Willy T. Ribbs is little more than a footnote in NASCAR history.

In 1986, he made three Winston Cup Series starts, finishing 39th at Michigan, 22nd at North Wilkesboro and 29th on the road course in Riverside, California. In 2001, he ran the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for Bobby Hamilton Racing, qualifying for 23 of 24 races, and finishing 16th in points with a best finish of 13th at Pikes Peak. His main claim to NASCAR fame was being the third African-American driver -- behind Wendell Scott and Randy Bethea -- to compete at the top levels of the sport. Ribbs faded away after that 2001 season, and has scarcely been heard of since.

Until last week, when he launched a scathing critique of NASCAR in an article written by Jason Whitlock of Knight-Ridder newspapers.

"No matter what the other racing series think of themselves, no matter how drunk they get on moonshine and delude themselves, there's nothing that equals the Indianapolis 500," said Ribbs. Asked whether he hates NASCAR, Ribbs said, "I feel the same way about them that they do about me. I raced when everybody knew that was the junior league. Mario Andretti went down south and just embarrassed those guys. And then A.J. went down there and showed `em."

Over the course of their two days together, Whitlock says he never heard Ribbs refer to NASCAR by name. Writes Whitlock, "though he talked about America's most popular racing series constantly, Ribbs referred to NASCAR as `al-Qaida' or `Neckcar' or `The WWE,'" while lauding Indianapolis as the pinnacle of American motorsport.

Ribbs' love for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is curious, since his record there is as spotty as his NASCAR resume'. Comedian Bill Cosby bankrolled a pair of Indy starts for Willy T. in 1991 and 1993, getting virtually nothing in return. He lasted five laps before suffering engine failure in 1991, and despite spending more than $10-million of Cosby's money in an effort to land a top-notch ride, a 21st place finish in 1993 was the highlight of his Brickyard career.

Gasoline Alley turned its back on Willy T. Ribbs back then, while NASCAR gave him a top-notch Craftsman Truck Series ride. And yet, Ribbs now chooses to lob hand grenades at the only major racing series that offered him a legitimate opportunity to succeed. Willy T. believes that the rumored reconciliation between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League will spell doom for NASCAR, catapulting Open Wheel Racing to the top of the American motorsports ladder once again.

That degree of dementia is troubling in a man just 50 years of age, but it's his opinion, and he's entitled to it.

Ribbs is wrong about Champ Car and the IRL causing sleepless nights for the France Family anytime soon, and he's wrong when he says NASCAR hates him as much as he hates them. Willy T. Ribbs is absolutely not hated by the NASCAR community. In fact, he is barely even remembered. And that's what bothers him most of all.

You can read the complete Jason Whitlock article here.


  1. Anonymous9:47 AM

    Isn't it odd the Willy T would denigrate NASCAR for what he feels is ingrained racial bias (note the “Neckcar” label he uses, an obvious reference to rednecks) yet never once notes that the reason he didn't ever make it at Indy or the CART circuit is because of racial bias.

    Quite simply the man is delusional!

    1. Anonymous4:49 PM

      Oh sure of course the reason this person never finished in even the top ten was because he was prejudiced against it has nothing to do with the fact that he had very little talent but a really big mouth.

  2. Anonymous7:59 PM

    I know many, many people who are Open Wheel fans who hate everything that is NASCAR. As anyone who listens to show can tell you I'm a HUGE CHAMP CAR fan. More importantly though I'm a race fan. Last time I checked NASCAR much like CHAMP CAR is racing. Can't we all just get along? Who can really say what a merged open wheel series might bring to the racing landscape. At this point it has not even happened yet and there is no time line for when it might happen.

    Variety is the spice of life as they say and as race fans we should be looking forward to the diversity that a merged open wheel series can provide us for our racing entertainment. Not for one series to dominate or diminish each other. Have we not had enough bickering back fourth between CHAMP CAR vs IRL war in the last decade? Why would we want to start a new war against NASCAR a merged open wheel series?

    Guys like Willy T Ribbs just don't get it. While they complain and bicker. The real race fans will have a good time watching racing instead of arguing about it.

  3. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Hopefully people won't hold a grudge against Jason Whitlock for what Ribbs had to say about NASCAR.
    In this day & age, he is still one of the very few "mainstream" sportswriters that has any interest or knowledge in motorsports. He occasionally appears on the Sports Reporters on ESPN and on the few times auto racing is a topic, Jason puts all the others to shame with his knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport.

    For his part, the cars Ribbs drove in cup were junk. Most, if not all of his starts were for DiGard Racing which was on it’s very last legs at the time, and long past it’s heyday of Waltrip, Allison, or even Greg Sacks. As for his Indy car career, I believe he actually ran a couple of full seasons on the CART series, so he had more than just a couple of Indy 500 starts.

    Between Ribb’s comments, the ones Foyt makes everytime a mike is in front of him, and Janet Gutherie's comments to promote her book, it seems like the season of Grumpy Old People is upon us.

  4. Ouch! You said Willy T....
    Before reading on I thought you were talking about Willy T. Porter...