“Uppity” documentary examines Willy T. Ribbs’ struggle to race in the US

Adam Carolla’s Chassy Media has documented Ford’s efforts versus Ferrari at Le Mans, Carroll Shelby, and Paul Newman’s racing career, and now the production company has a documentary about the Jackie Robinson of auto racing, Willy T. Ribbs. You can watch the trailer here.

“Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story” details the career of the first African-American racing driver to win a Trans Am race, test a Formula One car, and compete in the Indy 500. The title plays off how he was referred to by other racers and their mechanics when he was trying to make his way in the U.S. in the 1970s. For his part, Ribbs embraced the taunt and it spurred him on.

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The documentary was co-directed by Carolla and Nate Adams, who directed “The 24 Hour War” and “Shelby American: The Carroll Shelby Story.” In addition to Ribbs, it includes interviews with Wally Dallenbach Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Dan Gurney, David Hobbs, Caitlyn Jenner, Paul Newman, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Jr., Robby Unser, and Humpy Wheeler.

Ribbs won the Formula Ford series in England in 1977, then returned to the U.S. in 1978 to pursue his dream of racing in the Indy 500. Humpy Wheeler, president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, attempted to put Ribbs in a NASCAR racer, which was a move that didn’t sit too well with southern segregationists. Ribbs never competed in that race, but he would go on to compete in four NASCAR Cup Series races in 1986. He turned his attention to Trans Am, where he won multiple races and became the series’ rookie of the year in 1983. Eventually, in 1991, he accomplished his goal of running in the Indy 500 and was the first African-American to break the color barrier of the Brickyard. 

The documentary dives into Ribbs struggle to gain acceptance and win races in America. He was subjected to death threats, unwarranted suspensions, and even engine sabotage. 

Those interested can download “Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story” here.

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