Motor Racing : Riding Out Suspension Is Another First for Willy T. Ribbs


Willy T. Ribbs is a pioneer.

Ribbs is one of the few black professional race drivers, and his life story reads like a movie script.

In fact, Ribbs, 31, has had offers to turn his life into a movie.

But the latest chapter in Ribbs’ story is perhaps the most bizarre.

Ribbs was suspended for 30 days last month for punching a fellow driver, Scott Pruett. He said that Pruett ran him off the track at a sports car race in Portland, Ore.

Ribbs, who drives for Dan Gurney’s Toyota team, finished second but said that Pruett’s tactics cost him a shot at winning.


Fights in auto racing are not as common as brawls in bars but they aren’t exactly rare, either. Drivers sometimes lose their tempers.

Ribbs, however, became the first driver to be suspended by the International Motor Sports Assn. in its 18 years of existence. He’s not proud of it.

“I made a mistake and I regret it,” Ribbs said Wednesday from his home in San Jose.

“(Pruett) ran into me and eliminated whatever chance I had of winning. I thought it was absolutely unnecessary. He wasn’t in contention.”

The fight between Ribbs and Pruett was no contest.

Ribbs, who idolizes former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, stays in shape by training in a boxing ring and jumping rope.

Ribbs said he didn’t go looking for Pruett after the race, but lost his temper when they met by chance.

“I just happened to run into him,” Ribbs said. “Altercations are nothing new. But I don’t ever recall a driver being suspended for it.”


Ribbs said that Gurney has stood by him during his troubles.

“Dan Gurney has supported me,” he said. “I think my conduct and my life style have been exemplary. Most guys sitting out from driving are in drug rehab. But the only reason I’m sitting out is because of the altercation.

“But I’ve carried on this far and I’m going to continue. This is just another chapter in my quest. The suspension only adds to it. I’ve tried to maintain my dignity and respect.”

The suspension will force Ribbs to miss two races and he can’t estimate how much money it’s going to cost him.

But there is one benefit to the forced layoff.

Ribbs, who is away from home a lot because he’s on the road racing, is getting a chance to spend time with his 10-month-old daughter.

OFF-ROAD--Al Unser and his son Al Jr. have entered the Stroh’s SCORE Off-Road World Championship race at Riverside Aug. 21-23. It is being billed as the final off-road race at Riverside. The Unsers will drive Jeeps. Roger Mears and Ivan Stewart are also entered.

SPEEDWAY CYCLES--England’s Phil Collins will remain here to compete in the AMA speedway cycle event tonight at Ascot. Bobby Schwartz of Costa Mesa has dominated the scratch main event.


STOCK CARS--Marcus Mallett, who took a half-lap victory in the Curb Motorsports NASCAR Winston Racing Series for pro stocks last week, will be back to try his luck again in the series Sunday night at Ascot. Mallett is attempting to become the first black driver to win a NASCAR track championship. Tony Zaffino will attempt to win the bomber and Figure 8 divisions at Ascot. Cajon Speedway will have stock car racing in all classes Saturday night.

SPRINT CARS--Brad Noffsinger of Huntington Beach, second behind Mike Sweeney in the Parnelli Jones Firestone/California Racing Assn. series, heads the field for Saturday’s race at Ascot. Scott Luhdorf of San Jose defeated Noffsinger in last week’s race at Fremont, Calif.

ENDURANCE--Pete Halsmer, who won a Trans-Am race at Lime Rock, Conn., last week, will team with Steve Saleen, an old rival from Formula Atlantic days, in a 24-hour race Sunday at Toronto.

SUPERCROSS--The AMA supercross race that was scheduled at Anaheim Stadium next January, then canceled, may be on again. AMA officials will meet with the Anaheim City Council next week in an effort to work out a contract. The race was called off after Anaheim officials awarded an exclusive contract to another promoter.