Sponsor-less Ribbs fishes for Indy keys

May 13, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Willy T. Ribbs sits by a phone in Indianapolis waiting. Waiting. It is a tedious activity for a man who is used to speeds faster than 200 mph. It is a worrisome exercise for a man who makes his living and supports his family by driving race cars.

A year ago, Willy T. Ribbs' days would begin with interviews and special appearances at 6 a.m. and end with the last late-night talk show. Everyone wanted to talk to him, because he had qualified for the Indianapolis 500.

Last May, Willy T. Ribbs became the first black man to drive in the Indianapolis 500.

Today, he sits by his phone, hoping for a call from a sponsor.

"There are 38 other drivers here who have sponsors," Ribbs says. "There are drivers with sponsors who have qualified for this race who have never qualified before. But we're sitting on the sidelines because we've been turned down by potential sponsors.

"We made history. History that will be remembered for 200 years. was world news. There was a tremendous response, from the '' general public to the White House. And now, it's beyond words for me to tell you how this feels. It's like you get this feeling that no matter what you do, how hard you try, what success you've shown, no matter what, you're not going to get what you deserve."

This weekend, the final qualifying rounds will be held for the annualMemorial Day race, but it is unlikely Ribbs will be on the track. Even after overcoming all the odds of showing he was good enough to make the Indianapolis 500 on little more than the faith of actor Bill Cosby, the credit card of car owner Derrick Walker and his own heart, Ribbs is without a sponsor and thus without a ride.

When a sponsor invests in a Willy T. Ribbs IndyCar program, it will get not only Willy T. and the IndyCar, but also Cosby as spokesman.

Bob Kachler of the William Morris Agency is trying to sell this Ribbs/Cosby package to a sponsor.

"We didn't really get started until late in the year, November," said Kachler, who has approached about 65 companies. "By then, corporate budgets are tied up, but I think we could have something for 1993."

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