(CBS Local/CBS SF)- Superstar Racing Experience made a new addition to its driver roster on Wednesday announcing that Willy T. Ribbs Jr. would be joining the series for its inaugural season in the summer of 2021. Ribbs competed across a wide variety of racing disciplines during the course of his career, finding the most success in the Trans-Am series where he picked up 17 wins.
However, he is more widely known for breaking down barriers in the sport, becoming the first Black man to qualify and race at the Indianapolis 500 in 1991 and then the first to test a Formula 1 car. His story of the challenges he faced coming up in racing now lives on Netflix in the documentary Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story.
Now, he’s adding another chapter to that story joining SRX’s all-star cast of drivers which already includes Bobby Labonte,
Helio Castroneves, Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan. If you think his competitive fire is gone, Ribbs just won the VROC Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am last year. He says when he got the call from SRX co-founder Ray Evernham, he was immediately interested.
“I got a call from Ray Evernham a couple of months ago and he said we are going to bring back IROC only it’s going to be called SRX,” said Ribbs Jr. in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “I told him I would be on with it, he told me the lineup and I was really interested when he mentioned the names that were proposed. It’s like a Pro Bowl.”
That Pro Bowl aspect with the races featuring some of the best drivers across disciplines that fans have seen makes for an atmosphere that the competitor in Ribbs just loves.
“Everybody you named are bad cats. When you get an alley full of bad cats, you got fur going everywhere. When he mentioned it, I was definitely on for it,” said Ribbs. “I think it’s going to be a great show because everybody, the names you just called off, that’s going to make for one hell of a show. And the fans, the fans are going to love it because, like I said, we’re on dirt. Two of the races are on dirt and you know what happens when you’re on dirt? You get dirty.”
He says that the trash talk has already begun in preparation for next summer. He also has a friend that’s going to help him train for those grueling races. You may know him.
“The cake is just now going in the oven. I’m getting a hold of my buddy Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard and I have been friends for 40 years almost and he’s going to get me in the gym, get me in good shape and then I’m going to call out Uncle Bobby as in Unser,” said Ribbs smiling. “It’s going to be a classic series.”
One of the main selling points that Evernham mentioned when the series was announced is that it will be going to tracks that racers grew up racing on and that don’t get the same national shine that others may. For Ribbs, those new tracks only make for more entertaining competition.
“I do know that there are going to be some new tracks,” said Ribbs. “I think that’s great because we’ll all be starting fresh on new terrain which will make it even more competitive.”
Returning to the track is far from the only thing Ribbs has going on at the moment. The documentary, produced by Adam Carrolla and Nate Adams, is on Netflix and he’s been thrilled by the response to it.
“It was actually my piece in the documentary The Racing Life of Paul Newman, I did a lot in that film. After that was done, Adam Carrolla and Nate Adams called me and said, we’ve got a lot of feedback on just what you did and there’s a lot of interest from people to hear what happened in your career,” said Ribbs. “I told them on one condition. We tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I told them, there’s going to be some people that are butthurt. But as my grandpa used to say on the ranch, that’s what butts are for, getting hurt.”
While there have been people who may be hurt by the documentary, many more have been moved by the story and have reached out to Ribbs. He mentions that there are a few more projects still to come based on his story, so fans can keep an eye out.
But, while the response has been great, the struggle for diversity in auto racing continues. For Ribbs, the way to fix that is to have people in positions of power, with the capital to build a team, get involved.
“My career was up and down, but I was good enough to keep it up even with struggles,” said Ribbs. “But, if it wasn’t for Bill Cosby, I would have never been in Indy Car, would have never been in the Indy 500. Despite all of the things that have now happened in Bill’s career, if it wasn’t for him, I would have never been in the Indy 500. He pushed it in. It’s going to take individuals that have that kind of resource like LeBron James for example or M.J. (Michael Jordan). They don’t have to do a damn thing but if the sport is going to move forward then it’s going to take capital of color. Then it will happen.”
For now, Ribbs is preparing for the inaugural season in 2021 with his sights set on the championship. If he wins, we may also see his signature celebration too: the Muhammad Ali shuffle.
“If I win, now I’m going to need a step ladder to get up there, I used to be able to jump off the ground, I can’t do that anymore,” said Ribbs smiling. “I will do it as best I can.”
The Superstar Racing Experience comes to CBS Television Network in the summer of 2021.