Willy T. Ribbs to return to racing after 10-year hiatus
Willy T. Ribbs never pondered a racing comeback until friend Chris Miles tossed the idea out there awhile back, and the rest is history.
|Willy T signs autographs at Indy back in May|
Willy T. Ribbs, now 56 years old, is returning to racing after being out of the sport for 10 years.
At least, that's what Ribbs hopes will result with Wednesday's announcement of his return after a 10-year hiatus. The Indianapolis 500's first African-American starter in 1991, he will compete on Sept. 4 in the Firestone Indy Lights Series' inaugural street race in Baltimore and doesn't rule out more starts if the urge hits him and he's able to line up financial support.
"It's kind of like coming back to (Class) AA baseball after being out of the major leagues for a while," said Ribbs, 56. "I'll have to bring my walker to get it on with those kids, and they're all kids since none of them were born when I raced."
That includes Chase Austin, who began driving for Ribbs' startup Indy Lights team in May at Indianapolis. Right now, Ribbs plans only to drive in the temporary street-course race in downtown Baltimore as a means of ramping the team's profile while Austin concentrates on the Indy Lights' oval races.
But after last week's shifter-kart refresher course near Dallas, Ribbs said the juices are flowing again, enough for him to consider other road-course starts. Though he turned to competitive shooting after a career including CART/IndyCar, NASCAR and sports cars, he still works out enough that he could fit into the tight cockpit of an open-wheel machine and insists that he could handle the physical demands of a race in the IndyCar feeder series.
|During the CART years Willy T Ribbs qualified for the Indy 500 in this Lola Cosworth|
After all, Ribbs overcame a bigger obstacle 20 years ago just qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. His best finish in two starts of an effort co-owned by entertainer Bill Cosby was 21st in 1993, but it opened the door for other work and for another black driver, George Mack, to start in 2002.
Ribbs' effort was recognized at this year's race in which he reunited with old friends and made a few new ones, planting the seed for another chapter. Then came Miles, a co-partner in Willy T. Ribbs Racing whose Starting Grid, Inc. venture seeks to diversify motor sports by tapping into the minority demographic such as Baltimore's urban population.
"I wanted to honor Willy in the best way I knew how," Miles said in a statement. "Having him drive in this series is a great tribute to his work and an exciting way for fans to remember his legacy. What better way is there to celebrate his career than getting him back on the racetrack?"
Ribbs knows there will be "haters" who doubt that he can do it. He responds by running off a list of athletes who competed into their late 40s and 50s, such as boxer George Foreman and four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt, whose last start came at age 59 in 1994 -- a year after Ribbs' second and last Indy 500 start that he never thought would happen.
Which is why, he notes, that this scenario shouldn't be dismissed.
"Those haters have always been my greatest motivators," he said, "and without them I wouldn't have been so edgy. On the other side are my supporters, so I have two reasons to make this happen." USA Today