If you’ve never heard of Willy T. Ribbs, you should. He was the “Jackie Robinson” of American auto racing who became the first African American to test drive a Formula One race car in 1986. He would have likely gone on to race in F1 if the car’s sponsor , Olivetti, hadn’t insisted on having Italian drivers.
Willy was from San Jose, California, and was of America’s most talented race car drivers. His personality was one that was as challenging as his driving that some characterized as “uppity”.
Even though the 1960’s was regarded as the time of racial freedoms and of desegregation, racial bigotry continued well past the 1980’s in the United States, and in many forms of automotive racing. Willy T. Ribbs, endured this reality with an attitude of “I’ll show you”.
His talent as a race car driver should have lead him into the forefront of racing, but the color line still existed and impacted his ability to achieve what his talent clearly showed he was capable of.
The above is an exceptional interview with Ribbs that you should take the time to watch and listen to. Then go to Netflix and watch “UPPITY” – an illuminating documentary of Willy T’s racing life.