INDIANAPOLIS OJB — INDIANAPOLIS -- Willy T. Ribbs walked into his afternoon news conference a few minutes late.
"I'm really sorry about the delay," Ribbs said. "But I just got back from court, where I officially had my name changed to Willy T. McRibbs."
If anyone deserved a break today, it was Ribbs, who announced he'd signed with McDonald's as his first major corporate sponsor.
Ribbs, driving for the Derrike Walker team, is the first black to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. And he has done it virtually without the support of corporate America.
But, tomorrow, when he starts his engine in the middle of Row 10, his Lola/Buick will be wearing the golden arches.
"It is no secret we need a lot of money," said car owner Walker. "We still have a lot more space on the car to cover, but this is a start. McDonald's is a well-known company well-respected by corporate America. If McDonald's sees that we have a team worth supporting, it sends a signal to everyone else. Even if they were just giving us free burgers, it would have been enough."
Just how much money McDonald's is investing in the one-race deal is unknown. McDonald's spokesman Roger Lipker said it is not company policy to discuss financial terms, nor would he say whether sponsorship would extend beyond tomorrow's race.
Still, Ribbs seemed enthusiastic about the deal.
"When our team arrived here in early May, it was like we were running a marathon," Ribbs said. "We were running long, hard and uphill. When we qualified, it was like we were on top of the hill, and we could catch our breath a little bit. Now, with this deal, we're running downhill, and it makes breathing a little easier -- and Derrike can sleep better."
Before signing with McDonald's, the Walker team was operating on a donation of "a couple hundred thousand" dollars from actor/comedian Bill Cosby and Walker's Visa card.
The debt, after five blown engines during Indy 500 practice and qualifying, reportedly reached as much as $400,000.