A Motorsports Legend, Determined and Unfiltered

Interview by Beth Paretta


He’s “Uppity” by name, and, let’s say audacious in nature, but Willy T. Ribbs is also an American racing legend. His ability to push a race car beyond its limits was rivaled, perhaps, only by his determination to overcome every obstacle thrown at him during a highly successful racing career.
As a young black race car driver simply trying to let his talent do the talking, Ribbs’ racing career saw him head full-throttle through one adversity after another—both on and off the track. And while many might have turned away, an iron-like perseverance combined with astounding skill behind the wheel saw Ribbs reach the top echelon of motorsports.
In doing so, the California native helped break down barriers for diversity in global motorsports—placing a level of opportunity and change in front of a next generation of race car drivers. Recently, renowned team owner Beth Paretta sat down with the man to chat about a full-lap journey in racing that has brought him back to the place of one of his most famous accomplishments.

Beth Paretta: Okay, so just to set the scene—you grew up in San Jose, California, and you were born into a hardworking, very successful family. Your grandfather would say that for himself, for your family, for you, he instilled in you that you had to be better than the best. So that set your path, instilled your drive, your work ethic. But at 21, you went to the United Kingdom (UK) to race in Formula Ford, and I know you had to keep that secret from your grandfather at the time. How did your parents really feel about you taking your college money and what they thought your path was going to be to take a hard left turn, go to the UK and race cars? How did that really land?
Willy T. Ribbs: Well, my grandfather was born in 1899, and just to give you a reference, the Titanic sunk in 1912. Yeah. So, he had built the family business they founded in 1927 after the war [World War I] was over and all the GIs were coming back—California exploded. It just took off, his business took off, and he ended up buying real estate, building apartment complexes and condos, which he owned. And he retired when he was 50 and left the business to my dad and uncle.
It was weird because my grandfather was born in Louisiana, moved to California in 1921, but he was into hunting and fishing. Well, maybe not fishing. It was too boring for him, but he was into bird hunting and deer hunting because that’s what you did in those days for food in Louisiana. My dad’s hobby was racing. He raced motorcycles and dirt track. Then he went eventually into cars. So, my family was already competing when I was a kid. I mean, when I was born and before I was born, my dad was racing motorcycles. Then cars. That’s all we knew in the family.

BP: He was funding it himself?
WTR: Oh, yeah, he was finding ways to do it. But it was my mother, because my dad thought I was going to go over. I told him I wanted to go to England to start my racing career, because I knew that Emerson Fittipaldi left Brazil, went to England, became world champion in Formula 1. So, I was using Emerson’s playbook, but Jimmy Clarke was my hero. And our kitchen table conversations weren’t about anything other than racing, right?
So, my dad was racing at the time, and then he eventually, before I went to England, had stopped racing. Because he couldn’t do it full time, he had five kids. And so when I decided—I was 20 years old—I told my mom, not my dad. I said, ‘Mom, I want to go to England and start racing.’ And I swore, I wanted to start based on what Fittipaldi did. And so she says, ‘Okay, I’ll talk to your dad.’ And he was like, ‘No, he’s just going to go over there and chase the girls.’ That was his first thought because that’s what he would have done, right? And I did chase them when I got there, but I did go to race. And so, my mom came back to me and she says, ‘I talked to your dad. We’re going to take what would be your college money and send you to England.’

BP: And that’s a huge step. I mean, most parents would just end that conversation right there. So that’s kind of one of those first moments where it’s like, you know, choosing your path going forward. And I mean, well, I was thinking your dad was going to live vicariously through you?
WTR: No, I mean, dad raced. He did real well in sports car racing as an amateur, right? He understood the sport. He understood, of course, the dangers of it.

BP: And you had been racing in California—obviously enough to be able to then know this is what I want to do. I’ve got talent. I’m going to do it. It gets crazier. So, you go to the UK and you’re in the Formula Four championship. And what year did you go over, 1977? You win the championship.
WTR: I understood what I did understand. And you know, of course, we raced some go-karts a few times. Motocross. What I understood about the sport, which was very important was the technical side. Yes. My dad also built race cars as well, so I understood the technical side. When I went to England, I read about Scorpion Race team and you could race their cars for $400 a race. Well, it was pounds sterling, a little bit more than dollars. So, I went to the guys. Mike Eastick, the owner, and I drove out to his farm. In his barn, he had 10 Formula Fords, and he was very successful. I called him and first knocked on his door and he looked at me like, ‘Blimey. Uh, are you here to get a job working on my farm?’ I said, ‘no.’ I was the one who called you about driving your car, so we sat down and did a deal.
Two weeks later, I was testing in Snetterton, I think it was. And then two weeks after that, I did my first race at Mallory Park and finished third. So, he said, ‘Good job, we’re going to bump you up to a newer car.’ So, we went to a newer car for the next race, which was Snetterton, and I won. That was back in the days of Nigel Mansell; I started at the same time.

BP: So the amount of kids that come up the ladder in Europe, like these are deep fields and there’s usually some talent. I mean, every class you can say, oh, this person I started with, that person I started with, this isn’t just a bunch of slouches. So, the fact that you went over there and were good, quickly, is remarkable.
WTR: Well, the fourth race was Brands Hatch. And Mansell and I, and a guy named Michael Rowe, we raced each other. I led, Rowe led, Mansell led, and ended up Rowe won with me second and then Mansell. I don’t know how many people don’t know Nigel Mansell but he’s a world Formula 1 champion, twice. We met each other on the back of the truck. They call them lorries over there. And we had these lorries and that’s when we met each other after the race—on the lorry.
That weekend was the same weekend I met Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone and his designer, Gordon Murray, were out scouting young talent. And Bernie walks up to me and introduces himself. I said, ‘No, no, I know who you are.’ And he says, ‘You’re doing quite well.’ His designer, Murray, is tall and thin. And he was just like eyeballing me. And then he says, ‘Well, we’ll be watching you, and keep up the good work.’ Well, that night after the race I had dinner with Mike Eastick. And he says, ‘By the way, how much were you racing in United States, and where did you race?’ I said. ‘I didn’t race.’ And he didn’t quite get it. I said, ‘No, I never raced before.’ He took a shot of whiskey, and he says, ‘I’m glad.’

BP: Glad? I didn’t know that.
WTR: No, he says, ‘I’m glad more Yanks like you don’t come over and try to drive my cars!’ So, I’d done about half of the 12 races. By the seventh race, I was out of money. And he says, ‘I’ll make you a deal. You’re leading the championship. If you don’t drive, what’s up with my car? We’re going to win this championship, and I’m going to keep you in the car… on his dime.’ And we ended up winning the championship. In fact, I had such a lead, I didn’t even race the last race. In fact, he says, ‘You know, you don’t have to race it. You won the championship, and I’d like to save a little more money.’

BP: So, is that when you knew that you were good? When [Bernie Ecclestone and when Eastick said] that to you, is that when it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, this is something that I can do and this is something that I want to do?’
WTR: When I won my first race after Snetterton, it answered a lot of questions because as a driver, being new, you’re asking yourself all the time, are you capable of doing this? And you’re really not literally asking as such, but in your subconscious—do I deserve to be here? Do I deserve to move on? Do I deserve to be a professional driver at the top of the sport? And when I won that race, I said, ‘Okay, I know.’

BP: Which is a critical point and leads to my next question because, respectfully, there’s a lot of talented drivers out there. And we know that the ones that you see at the top are extremely talented. It doesn’t mean that they’re always the most talented in the world. A lot of this is opportunity, you know, things coming together such as this—and you win the championship.
Ecclestone knows who you are, but you don’t have funding to climb to the next rung on that ladder in the UK. So, you go back to the United States and then you get into Formula Atlantic. But those opportunities weren’t consistent either. And that was sort of the start of this. You know, many years of you doing very well on track, but then not having the [funding] to be able to keep going during those years.
How do you think you handled that mentally? How did you stay in the game? In your documentary about your story, called Uppity, it talks about you going back to working for the family business in between. And that’s like the last place you wanted to be because you wanted to be on track...
WTR: You know, I get asked by the media, given the environment that young kids are in today about the psychological effect that can have on someone that is dealing with pushback or not getting support—especially when you’ve earned it. I never could. My grandfather would have kicked my ass if I would have ever said to him, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it, I don’t or I feel depressed.’ You know, he had a method. His medicine for depression was a shovel. He said, ‘Go work. Now go dig that ditch. Go dig that sprinkler line.’ So, it was very old school, and I’m glad that that’s how I was dealt with.
I’d race occasionally some Formula Atlantic races. Jim Truman, the founder of Red Roof Inns, was my backer. He had a full-time IndyCar team with Bobby Rahal. He couldn’t give me a full-on budget, but selected races and he would support me. Well, in 1982, at the Long Beach Grand Prix—Formula 1 was there at that time—Formula Atlantic was the undercard, and I put it on the pole in that. And in that race, there was Al Unser Jr., Geoff Brabham, Michael Andretti, Roberto Moreno, Price, Cobb—you can go down the list. It was the biggest Formula race of the year because all the drivers wanted to be in front of Formula 1. I qualified on the pole, and I was going to the press room and Bernie grabbed me. We were going by each other, and he grabbed my arm, and he says, ‘Well done, William.’ And that was all he said. And so, he always called me William. We had a mechanical in the race, but we were strong and we were fast. And right after that, nothing happened.

BP: No phone calls?
WTR: No phone calls until—that was Long Beach in April of 1982. I got a call in November of 1982, two days before Thanksgiving. It was from Paul Newman... He says, ‘Hey, kid, I got a deal for you if you want it. It’s not Formula Atlantic; it’s a Trans Am team. It’s going to be sponsored by Budweiser, and I told them that I wanted you to be in that car. It’s first class, and if you want the deal, it’s already done.’ I said, ‘What do I need to do? If you recommend it, I will do it.’ He says, ‘They’re going to call you on Monday after Thanksgiving. They’re assholes, so if you [have] any problems with them, call me.’ And that [was when] I became a paid race driver.

image 2


BP: And you were paired with David Hobbs, yes?
WTR: Yes [laughs].

BP: [Laughs] So, this is 1983 season, and you wind up setting fast laps winning races. Now, keep in mind, at the time Hobbs is the veteran of the team and you’re the rookie. And as the season goes on, you’re doing very well and your relationship with your teammate gets a bit strained and people started to label you as cocky, among other things.
But looking back at that, I think you were right to have an amount of confidence because, obviously, you had proven yourself as a competent racing driver. And now, you’re in probably lesser equipment than him because he’s the star of the team. And if you’re setting faster laps and winning races, you have earned your right to be there. But the media started to pit you against each other a little bit and kind of made this... Whether they elevated the drama or created the drama, it was going on.
But also, for the record, there was a 16-year age gap between you and Hobbs. So again, he’s a little later in his career and you’re on the come-up. And you’re doing well, but you bore the brunt of that because now, all of a sudden, you’re being labeled as you’re arrogant, and you’re cocky, and how terrible that is, and you should know your place in the team. But this is probably the first time, in a big way, where race creeps in, among the press and among the fans. But instead of letting it get to you, you turned it into the fire too—to fuel you. Was that exhausting or did you just kind of flick the switch?
WTR: [Laughs] Kind of fun… It was real. Opposition always got me excited. I mean, you know, sometimes you go out on a date and you’re dating for six months before you get a kiss. Back in the old days. But it was exciting because it was the challenge, right? When I went to the team and the media had labeled me cocky and arrogant, and they asked me, ‘How do you feel about that?’ I said, ‘That’s the nicest thing I’ve been called in years.’
I dealt with it that way. But I raced against Hobbs at our very first race when I came on to the team—David Hobbs and the team manager by the name of John Dick, that was his name! He was a Hobbs guy. Hobbs was the team leader. I was to finish second. On the very first race in Florida, West Palm, I outqualified him. Tom Gloy in the Ford was on pole, I qualified second, Hobbs was third. Let me tell you what. In the very first race...
I had only had two test sessions in a Trans Am car, which is front engine, all this massive horsepower. And prior to that I had been rear-engine, small, open-wheel cars.
And so I saw Hobbs in the elevator after qualifying. He came in and he says, ‘You did a good job, you’re learning pretty fast.’ I mean, he could hardly talk. Yeah, he had lockjaw. And so that night I went out to dinner with my crew chief Jeff Schwartz and Pat McFall. We went out and they said, ‘Look, we heard you were fast, but we didn’t know you were that fast.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me learn the car. I don’t know enough about the car yet.’ They said, ‘Come on, Ribbs.’ I said, ‘I don’t know enough.’

BP: Right. So, you finished second?
WTR: Yeah, I finished second, but I got first-place prize money.

BP: I love that. So, now you get the call from Ecclestone to go to test a Formula 1 car. And you went to Portugal and tested at Estoril. You were the first African American to drive an F1 car.
WTR: Well, there’s only been one.

BP: There’s only been one. Right, right.
WTR: The first black driver.

BP: Black, black. Yeah.
WTR: There’s only been two.

BP: Right... But let me ask you this, though: Looking back, do you think there was ever a shot of you getting the job because you were very fast in the car, faster than they even thought you’d be, and faster than they planned on?
WTR: Yeah. And after the test, Bernie told me, he says, ‘It’s 50/50, Willie.’ He said at that time Olivetti, which was an Italian company, was sponsoring the team and they wanted two Italian drivers. So, it was Riccardo Patrese and Elio de Angelis—both Italians. And that’s what they wanted. Now, if there would have been an American company, then sure. Absolutely.

BP: Then and there’s a lot of that still goes on. I mean a lot of decisions are very much driven by sponsors and who the sponsor likes.
WTR: Think about how many Americans have ever driven a Formula 1 car. But now, back in the old days, when Phil Hill and Mario and Dan Gurney... That was Gurney’s own car.

BP: Absolutely. He built his own.
WTR: He built his own car. There just wasn’t, um, it’s very political. Even today.

BP: Yes. And we’ll get to a little bit more Formula 1.
But I want to ask you just quickly about your NASCAR moment there, because this is an interesting thing. Again, about, what your experience was, the way you grew up, the success you had already achieved, and this is pre-dating Trans-Am, though, just to go back a second.
So, you get this call from Humpy Wheeler, who’s this big promoter, and he wants to put you in a race. And clearly, Humpy Wheeler is, you know, a showman. And so, we know why he wants to elevate. And there’s a big story around if you were going to be racing in a car. But he obviously also knew that you were capable. He wouldn’t have put you in if you were going to fail behind the wheel. So, he was interested in seeing what you could do on the track at Talladega.
WTR: I was introduced at Talladega, right. They brought me to Talladega to introduce some of the teams and Bill France Sr. At the time, I was going to race Charlotte World 600. Yes.

BP: How surprised were you at the reaction of people in the garages and the fans? And how much did it surprise you because you’re already a talented guy behind the wheel?
WTR: I was. Usually if I know someone is trying to get at me, I’ll try to get back at them. And I was expecting some push back. But, you know, when I was walking through the paddock, the guys were spitting at my feet, literally spitting.

BP: What year again is this?
WTR: This is 1978. And I thought, well, all right, as long as it doesn’t hit my shoes but…

BP: It’s amazing all those things... No one else in the garages has to deal with any of this… In addition to having to be a racing driver, you’re carrying this, like heavy, wet blanket.
WTR: Well, Ned Jarrett was walking me around and doing introductions, right. So, I was getting sort of pissed off, but I wasn’t showing it. He brings me into Bill France Sr.’s office, and at that time it was a double-wide. We walk into the office, he introduced me to him, and he says, ‘Well, well, well, uh, good to meet you. Welcome. Welcome to NASCAR.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ He said, ‘You’ve been running those little Formula cars.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and he replied, ‘What made you think you’re going to come down here?’ And I said, ‘Well, I just like the challenge.’ He says, ‘Who’s your favorite driver?’ I said, ‘Well, Jody Scheckter.’ I don’t know why I said Jody Scheckter. He said, ‘You know, that boy’s from Formula 1. He came down here in the IROC series and scared the shit out of Richard Petty. I don’t know how he drove like that, but he drove that car sideways all the way, the whole way around the track and running up high up against Buddy Baker.’ And I was trying not to laugh. I said, ‘Jody, you know, he runs on the edge, right?’
So, afterwards, the day of the race, because I was there for two days, Ned Jarrett takes me into the driver’s meeting, and those guys looked at me, man, like, ‘Really?’ Yeah. Oh, they looked at me like, ‘Uh, you’re outta place, boy.’ And I could feel it. So, I thought, okay, you guys want to have something to gripe about? I’m going to give you something. Bill Gazaway was the chief steward, and so right towards the end of the meeting—he was a really mean man. I mean, card-carrying member. So he gets ready to end the meeting. He says, ‘Anybody got any questions?’ So I held up my hand.
Those, guys’ heads turned so fast, the drivers, I said, ‘Um, can you pass on the grass?’ Ohhh [laughs]. Darrell Waltrip’s head dropped in his hands. I said the pit lane is narrow, it’s so narrow that these guys are nearly running into each other when they come out. I said, ‘Can you go out on the grass, put two wheels guys away?’ Gazaway’s face went bright red. ‘Best thing for you to do, boy, is just wait your turn.’ [Laughs] And all the drivers were shocked. That was headline news. Yes. Back in NASCAR, can you pass on the grass? Still today! That was the end…
Humpy Wheeler got a call that said, ‘Hey, get him out of town.’ Death threats were coming in. Letters were coming in. And what I liked about the letters is they couldn’t even spell cat. But they could spell the N-word perfect every time! I mean, there was a couple where there was just one “G.” I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s a country.’

BP: Oh my gosh. So, let’s talk about Indianapolis. Another place you went, to Indy car this time. Indy 500, 1985. Well, with this NASCAR thing behind you, you’re now coming off your Trans Am success. You would like to take a stab at being in the Indy 500. So in 1985 you try to put a drive together, but you had no testing, your chief mechanic wouldn’t speak to you, and ultimately you withdrew and you were crucified in the press. (This is another thing I can relate to; I’ve had a similar experience.)
But you came back, and the pivotal year was 1991 with Derrick Walker and the environment was completely different. Derrick was a supporter, and he believed in you. Rick Mears even gave you advice and everyone knew your talent by now. What was it about 1985? Was it the team? Was it too early? Had you not earned enough stripes yet, or was it just that group of people and the car wasn’t going to work? What was it?
WTR: It was just no communication. And I don’t think the guy who was the crew chief was Big Naughty was overseeing it, but a guy named Leffler who was a dirt-track sprint guy. And I knew right from the very start he did not want me in the car. I knew it, and I don’t think he understood that. I knew enough about the sport to know what was wrong. And so, Jim Truman called me that day when we were on break, and he says, ‘You need to leave Indianapolis.’ Yep! He says, ‘I’m getting some phone calls. You need to leave Indianapolis... Some phone calls.’ And so I left. The press crucified me for leaving. Things like ‘the lunch menu at the track was chicken and ribs.’

BP: Do you think that was a coincidence?
WTR: No, no, no, they created it. So, all right, I went back and started again. And when I did it that year, I was winning every Trans Am, so I went back and finished off the season. And then, in 1986, I got a call from another stock car team owner, and we did three races and then he was out of money. But what put him out of money is the engine builder was deliberately detonating the engines.

image 3


BP: But was it because of you? Were there a few times in your career where people have specifically told you this is why?
WTR: No question about it… I knew it.

BP: And the fact that these sponsors weren’t calling between Jim Truman and Paul Newman, like the calls still were not coming. You had these people helping, but then it still never led to the momentum that it should have based on your talent.
WTR: Well, probably the call that took me, not probably, THE call that took me back to the Indianapolis 500 in 1991 was from Bill Cosby...
In between 1986 and 1991, I was racing for Dan Gurney. His engine builder is a guy by the name of Gary Meyer. It was a manufacturer’s championship. It was Toyota versus Chevrolet versus Ford. And Dan Gurney without a doubt was the best team owner I ever had. Hands down. He was a legend as a driver and as a team owner and a builder. Bobby Unser raced for him. Great Swede Savage, those great drivers that raced for him. Plus, he won. And Formula 1.
Only driver in history, only American in history to win in his own car…
So, right the end of the 1986, I called Gurney and I said, I’d like to race for you. And he said, ‘Let’s play it by ear.’ Well, during testing at the end of 1986, one of his drivers got hurt—Dennis Ozzie. Gurney called me up and says, ‘I want you to get in the car...’
My very first test in the car in 1987 was at Riverside, California, before they got rid of the track. Chris Cord was testing one car, I was testing another. First time. Come in at the end of the day, and we’re in the conference room just like this, and Phil Remington’s in there. The great Phil Remington and the chief engineers. There’s about eight of us in a room and notetakers and all that. ‘What do you think of the car? What’s your impression, Willy T.?’
‘I don’t like it.’ That’s what I said, and I got that NASCAR look. Driver’s meeting. I said, ‘I’m glad we’re testing here… We got a couple of slow corners, but we got some really fast corners.’ These fast S’s, I said, ‘The way you’ve got [the] spring rate and shocks and bars,’ I don’t like. I said, ‘The thing is flopping over at high speed and the transition is using up time. You got to stay on top of it.’ I said instead of running hard springs and soft bars, I want the opposite. I want soft springs and hard and stiffer bars to keep that platform level for the next test. And Gurney looks at me and he says, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work, it’s on you...’ We went out and we were almost 2 seconds faster right away. We won the very first race with that setup, and then we went on and won the manufacturers championship. And after that, anything I asked for from Dan, he would say, ‘Okay, perfect. Yeah.’

BP: That’s awesome. So, 1991, back to Indy qualifying. You’re with Derrick Walker at that time. It’s much better, you’ve got the Bill Cosby money. But qualifying as we say the month of May can always be a challenge depending on the team, the setup—all of the ingredients. And as you say, anything can happen in 10 miles because qualifying for Indianapolis, you may know it’s four laps, it’s 10 miles. Anything can happen in 10 miles. So, when you finally qualified, Indianapolis Motor Speedway erupts into cheers.
And [qualifying] is the climbing the mountain. Not everybody even gets to be in the race. And depending on the year, it’s always capped at 33 but there could be 40 or more cars trying to get one of those 33 spots and some of them go home even before qualifying. But 1991, it all comes together, you’re with Derrick Walker, and you finally qualify in to become the first black man to qualify at the Indy 500.
WTR: And there’s been two. George McClellan back in 2006, I think.

image 4


BP: And then you come down to pit lane and everyone is cheering to the point where the other teams are coming out to congratulate you and high five you, because everybody knew that it was a historic moment and what it meant. Joey Ray was there, African-American former racer, and he congratulated you and said you did it, but you said, no, we did it. What did that feel like?
WTR: Once you’ve done it and it’s you, you feel like there’s nothing you can’t do. Now, Indianapolis, apart from the Isle of Man—which is a road race [on] the most dangerous place in the world—is not far behind. Indianapolis has killed a lot of drivers before me and after. I remember when I was there, Bobby Unser and of all the old-school drivers, I was closest to him. Al Jr. and I are best friends—talk every day. Yeah, I love him to death. But Uncle Bobby was like, ‘Willy, you make sure they get that car right. That car, when it’s right, it will drive itself. Don’t try to be hero out there because this place will hurt you.’ He didn’t say, ‘Kill you.’ He said, ‘Hurt you.’

BP: There’s nothing like it…
WTR: Yeah, there’s nothing like it because it’s so hard… You know, it’s not a weekend. It’s not a Friday, Saturday, Sunday. You’re there for a month. And the only thing I could equate, it’s so much.

BP: Qualifying weekend is more stressful than race day.
WTR: Oh, the race day is a piece of cake. It’s getting into the race, you know, and anything that could go wrong. I had one car so I knew I could not make a mistake… Couldn’t wad it [up] or I was done.

BP: And now you’re now the DEI ambassador for Formula 1. What [was it like] to get that call?
WTR: I learned over the years that if a deal happens, it happens right away. If it drags on, most of the time, it’s not going to happen… So, I get an email from England, and it said F1. They said, ‘Can we talk to you?’ And I emailed back. And said, ‘Okay, when?’ They said, ‘Tomorrow.’ We did a Zoom call, and they said, ‘We’re doing an ambassador program. You’re going to be, if you accept, one of the six ambassadors. Others are Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, Massa, Jenson Button and you’ll be one of the six… We saw the film Uppity, and we said you were the guy [we need].’
So, this is my second year with them. I got to tell you, [they are] absolutely the best. Formula 1 is on another level. And just in terms of how everything they do is first class, how I’ve been treated in Formula 1… They’re just great, great people.
That’s what’s happening with Formula 1. They said, ‘Well, how do you feel about diversity equity and inclusion?’ I said, ‘Look… the best always happens when you have all people, all brains, all together.’ And I got questioned by someone who was anti-DEI, they said, ‘Well are you woke?’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I wake up every morning.’ I also said, ‘Let me ask you this. Since you’re not [particularly into DEI], and you’re so good, put on a set of football pads and go out on that field in the NFL and try to make the team, Mr. Anti-DEI, because you look on the football field [and] you see everyone. If you got a problem with it, either you’re scared, you’re a coward or you’re just flat loser.’ And then I ended it with, get used to it.

BP: We’ve had this in IndyCar, because on the road to Indy, as you know, we’ve got Miles Rowe. And we know people have said things like, ‘I didn’t know that this was for me. I didn’t know that I could buy a ticket and go in and that I’d be welcomed.’ And people on the other side [don’t realize there’s] a whole population that doesn’t know that they’d
be welcomed if they bought a ticket to come… So just like that Italian company wanted Italian drivers, maybe we can get some more black-owned businesses?
WTR: Well, I think, and you’re starting to see, that you’ve got Michael Jordan and NASCAR. He’s getting involved. Then there’s Floyd Mayweather; he’s on a team as well. If I got them all in a room, if I got LeBron and Shaq and Jordan, and I said this to Jordan, I said look, ‘You’re a worldwide brand, why would you put yourself in a pigeonhole?’ I mean, as far as expansion and exposure and NASCAR, it’s a regional series.

BP: But he’s a fan of it.
WTR: I know he is. And that’s why he did it. And that’s what he said, I liked it, I was a fan of it. He grew up in North Carolina, but if I could get them all in a room, I could convince them that, you know, for one, you got to educate. I grew up in the sport. That’s all I knew. So, education, showing them, this is what it’s going to take to do this. Because Cosby didn’t know. He said, ‘Tell me why these guys spend this kind of money. Paul Newman is so cheap; he won’t buy you a Coke.’ And I said, ‘They spend this money. They’re out raising capital from advertisers. That’s how it’s funded.’ Bill had no clue; ‘I don’t know how to change a tire. And so don’t ask me to come to the races all the time. I’m doing this because I like you. I don’t follow the sport.’

BP: Okay, so wrapping things up, how do we get more inclusion? Where does that start? Because obviously, you know, you got Hamilton, you got Checo, you got Yuki. You got these guys up there. They’re paving the way. But that’s way down the road, right?
WTR: It’s money, [it’s] exposure. First of all, you got to know what your goal is, right? Ron Dennis designed a perfect playbook to groom a driver. Ron Dennis brought Lewis Hamilton from go-karts when he was a kid, supported him in go-karts, won a championship in go-karts, then went through the formulas right. Formula 3. Formula 2, Formula 3000. So it takes that.
Roger Penske right now is grooming, for the lack of a better word; I hate ‘grooming.’ But Miles Rowe is with Penske now, and Rowe won a championship last year. You get the driver, the people with the money, and place him in a team and you’ve got to have a plan. This is what we’re going to do this year. This is what we’re going to do next year, just like Ron Dennis did. He was Marlboro McLaren. Ron Dennis. They know exactly where to put you and who to put you with, and [how] to take you right up the ladder. And if you’re good enough, they’ll see it.
Unfortunately… I mean, during my most successful years, I was with a great team… I was with Roush, I was with Gurney, but I did not have Cosby. I did not have enough resources to put me in a first-class team like Penske or Newman-Haas, and maybe even Ganassi in those days. But you’ve got to be with the best or you’re going to flatline.

BP: Ok, you’re 21 right now. Which platform?
WTR: Formula 1. Always Formula 1. And the reason I say that is because I’ve watched it evolve. I watched now that Liberty Media owns it and bought it from Bernie Ecclestone. It just keeps getting more professional and it just keeps getting bigger. As a worldwide brand, in the old days, drivers did not have endorsement deals. Now, everyone in Formula 1 has an endorsement.

BP: But what about for racing? Let’s say money wasn’t the thing and it was just the series.
WTR: Me? A Red Bull F1. Oh, yeah, Red Bull.