F1: Willie TRIPS broke the color barrier in motorsport

F1: Willie TRIPS broke the color barrier in motorsport

They are words carved from the experiences of a man who knows how to stand alone.

The black driver whose efforts to break into motorsport has slowed down due to numerous obstacles and stereotypes throughout his career.

But despite all the talk of fighting, his words undermine a sense of what may and may not have been.

“I wanted to be like the great – I wanted to be the world champion of Formula 1. My mother always said that I was 25 years older than me.”

It was a dream envisioned in the mountains of California.

A dream that can be challenged by politics, characters and prejudice – but it is a dream that will ultimately spark a chain of groundbreaking moments and in turn spawn the original pioneering motorsport who breaks barriers.

We don’t really want you here.

Speaking from his farm in Driftwood, Texas, a frequent word appears throughout – “Book of Play”.

The Playbook was Ribes’ plan of success.

In childhood, his father – an amateur sports car racer – planted the seed of car racing.

In adulthood, Emerson Vittebaldi – who will continue to become the Formula One champion twice – has given him the way to thrive.
Like Fittipaldi, Ribbs’ early career took him to England to compete in the British single-seat Formula Ford Championship. He took the race like a duck to the water – he won six of the eleven races with her “Tomorrow’s Star” The title was in 1977.

“They saw Willie T. as a fast driver and a winning race driver,” Rips remembers.

His driving talent first appeared when he participated in the British Formula Ford Championship in 1977 (Courtesy: Chassy Media)

The following year, he returned to the United States with an emphasis on rivalry in IndyCar – although the variation in reception on the plane, could not have been greater.

But his reception on the corridor in the NASCAR race was a shock.

He clearly remembers his willingness to race on the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, Alabama, “All it takes is the word N. When you are addressed with this name, you know what’s going on.”

They made it clear: “We really don’t want you here. Why do you come to our sport? Can’t you play basketball or football? “

Humpy Wheeler, who was then president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, wanted to try to run Ribbs at NASCAR later that year – although his efforts were unsuccessful.

Ribbs was charged with a traffic violation in Charlotte – Wheeler was forced to rescue him outside police custody. The next day, Wheeler and Ribes went in two separate ways.

Reps says the death threats followed.

“I never cared about this. I know one thing – it won’t do it on my face. I considered it very exciting […] I received messages or a phone call. I kind of like to call her: “Okay, start killing.”

NASCAR did not immediately respond to CNN’s request to comment on the way Ribs says he has been dealt with by the sport.

One of the pioneers inspires the other

It is this bullish, bold and courageous trend captured in a single embossed word on the front of the Ribbs hat – “UPPITY” – The title of a recent Netflix documentary that paints his amazing life story.

However, it is a word that represents much more than that – a term charged with racism often targeting tapes to mean that he was acting above his station.

“They just thought I had to walk 10 steps behind them. It wasn’t going to happen.”

“(For me) it wasn’t about color. It was about being a race driver. Racing drivers don’t have a color that you can either get or you can’t.”

He praises how Ali presented him with a “playbook” to fight hostility – not physically but mentally and emotionally.

“He had a great principle and integrity and he was strong. He was mentally a very strong man [and] About his presence, I learned determination. What I have to do to achieve my goal. “

Muhammad Ali was an inspiring personality and talisman for Ribbs (Courtesy: Chassy Media)

And achieve this goal he has done.

Ribbs took the Trans-Am series with a storm from 1983-85, winning 17 times and positioning himself as the hottest feature in sports car racing.

Conveniently, his victory celebrations were not low. Back in the little plane and in Ali’s poem, he was performing “dodging Ali” – moving forward back and forth in quick succession over his hood and his hands held high.

A break came in April 1985 when, with the support of boxing promoter Don King, he made his first attempt to qualify for the famous Indy 500.

Ultimately, his mechanical problems were judged by his attempt. But there was a landmark on the horizon – it was to be devoted to motorsport folklore.

“He wanted me in Formula 1”

December 1985. Autódromo do Estoril, Portugal.

Approached by British businessman Bernie Ecclestone, who owned the Prabham team, became Ribs The first black driver to test drive a Formula 1 car.

“He wanted me in the car – He wanted me in Formula 1.”

It was a symbolic moment but equally limited – because it was going to be as far away as it would go in F1.

Brabham’s main sponsor at the time was Italian electronics manufacturer Olivetti. Ribbs says the company wanted to install an Italian driver. There was no compromise – the Italians Ricardo Patrice and Ilo de Angelis were the drivers for the 1986 Formula 1 season.

“I have no problems with that,” says Ribs. “I would have liked to have a major multinational sponsor from the United States to support him, but that didn’t happen […] My goal was to be in Formula One, but Bernie made a statement. “

The foundation is laid but it will take another 21 years for the black driver – Lewis Hamilton – To Formula 1 officially.

But Ribbs’ work will inflame another part of history.

After several attempts, after six years in May 1991, he qualified for Indy 500 – becoming the first African American driver to do so.

He completed five laps of the race before the engine failure forced him out, but it was undoubtedly the moment when he broke a huge barrier.

Two years later, though, his luck came full circle as he competed again and finished every 200 laps.

He is keen to remember these owners who have supported him the whole time – including Jim Truman and Dan Gurney.

The Walker Racing team successfully qualified Ribbs in Indy 500 in 1991 which made it the first black driver to compete in the race (Courtesy: Dan R Boyd)

The fight for equality

However, almost 30 years later, the scene looks the same as it was when Ribbs first started.

In 2020, NASCAR’s upper circuit has only one full-time black operator – Bubba Wallace.
The CNN interview follows the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and only a day later NASCAR has announced that it will ban the flags of the Confederacy from its events after an audio campaign led by Wallace.
Bubba Wallace spoke out against the display of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, which were banned by NASCAR in June 2020.

For some, the decision is too late. The tapes, however, remain skeptical.

“When NASCAR refuses to allow the Confederate flags to fly in its place: Is this true? If George Floyd is alive now, these flags are still flying. That’s why I don’t say much. They have a lot to do.”

NASCAR did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on Ribbs’ confirmation.

NASCAR is not the only place where the battle of equality and diversity continues.

Formula 1 worked to address its lack of representation and inclusion in sports by creating a Task Force and FoundationBeside that # WeRaceAsOne initiative.

Just as Ecclestone gave Ribs his shot, Ribes rushed to praise another “huge” character that gave Hamilton his chance in the sport – former McLaren CEO and founder, Ron Dennis.

((Putting) Lewis Hamilton in a position to reach what he is today. He saw great talent, guided and took Lewis to the top.

“Ron has already given the operating manual. Get the operating manual from Ron.

“If you can put a man in space, this is a piece of cake. It’s not rocket science.”

Louis, “squad leader”.

In many ways, Ribs Hamilton gave his “playbook” – a glimpse into what could be accomplished on and off the track.

But pure talent was never enough. The race requires support and resources – Ribs never had that.

Six-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was an outright defender of greater diversity in sports

(Louis) is the squad leader and he’s not afraid […] It has expanded sports around the world to include people of color [and] “It will be erased as the greatest of all time in the end,” says Ribbs proudly.

“There will always be this (this) element that does not accept pure race […] Just as there are a lot of people who will only accept Lewis for race. “

“They are not just idiots. They are afraid. They are cowards […] You do not judge a man over his skin color. You do not judge a man by his accent. He is a man or not a man. “

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