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Amid racial strife, Big Willie Robinson sought to forge peace, one street race at a time

In 1960s Los Angeles, after the catastrophic Watts riots, a legendary figure emerged — one who found an unexpected way to unite people across race and class.

Odds are you’ve never heard of him.

Big Willie Robinson was a 6-foot-6, muscle-bound street racer who preached peace a quarter-mile at a time. Cops and criminals, movie stars and miscreants, even Crips and Bloods — out at the drag strip, Big Willie could get them all to see eye to eye.

His street diplomacy eased racial tensions and united L.A. But what caused Big Willie to fade into obscurity?

Website credits

Reported by Daniel Miller. Digital production by Sean Greene. Edited by Kimi Yoshino. Video production by Myung Chun, Robert Meeks, Jason Neubert and J.R. Lizarraga. Copy edited by Rubaina Azhar. Photography by Myung Chun, Kirk McKoy, Howard Koby and Steve Reyes. Photos edited by Mary Cooney. Research by Scott Wilson. Audience engagement by Tessa Bangs.

Podcast credits

Reported, written and hosted by Daniel Miller. Produced by Grant Irving. Edited by Catherine Saint Louis. Story supervision by Kimi Yoshino. Executive produced by Jonathan Hirsch. Additional production by Karan Nevatia. Sound design and mixing by Daniel Tureck. Music by Nolan Schneider and Grant Irving. Sound engineering by Mike Heflin. Research by Scott Wilson. Fact checking by Laura Bullard. Copy edited by Rubaina Azhar. Additional audio work by Myung Chun, Jason Neubert and Robert Meeks. Audio rights and clearance by Alan Hagman, Paige Hymson and Erica Varela. Legal work by Jeffrey Glasser. "Larger Than Life" is a production of LA Times Studios with support from Neon Hum Media.