Willy T. Ribbs: NASCAR’s first black driver says organization is 50 years behind schedule but welcomes culture change

“NASCAR has taken a step, it is about 50 years a bit late, but they have taken a step that you would never see at any other major sporting event,” Willy T. Ribbs said of the sport’s decision to ban the Confederate flag. CNN’s Don Lemon Monday.
That same night, the sport showed its support for Bubba Wallace, the only current black driver on the best NASCAR circuit. Wallace has been an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement and pushed for the Confederate flag ban, prompting NASCAR to make the move. Then NASCAR President Steve Phelps said a crew member discovered a rope in Wallace’s garage.

“This will not break me, I will not budge or back down. I will continue to proudly stand up for what I believe in,” Wallace tweeted Sunday in response to the rope.

The next day, a large crowd, including drivers and escort crew members, escorted their car into the Talladega Superspeedway.

“I was there 30 years before him and I didn’t get that kind of support,” Ribbs said. “I was receiving death threats.”

Ribbs told Lemon that he does not believe this is the last aggressive response Wallace will receive.

The Confederate flag represents support for slavery and is worse than degrading for African Americans, he said. But there will be a “small element that will be kicking and yelling as everything changes,” Ribbs said.

Despite all the negativity, Ribbs said he believes Wallace will find overwhelming support.

“Good people of all colors will push for the right thing,” Ribbs said. He remembers the people who supported him, including Paul Newman, Jim Trueman, and Dan Gurney.

“They were not African-American,” Ribbs said. “They fueled my career even when there was opposition.”