Dodge inks Ribbs, BHR for diversity initiative
By Dave Rodman
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (Dec. 13, 2000) Veteran race driver Willy T. Ribbs, 41, will compete in the 2001 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in a Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge Ram backed by Dodge Motorsports, the manufacturer announced Wednesday.
Ribbs, who has extensive factory team experience in sports cars and also has experience in Indy cars including the Indianapolis 500, was selected after a test program that included black drivers Bill Lester and Tim Woods. Since then the San Jose, Calif., driver has participated in a NCTS test session at Darlington Raceway.
Ribbs, whose resume includes numerous victories in the IMSA Camel GT Series and SCCA BFGoodrich Trans-Am Tour, competed in a Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring race in 1998 but had not raced in NASCAR since he made a two-event foray in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1986. He said he is eager for the new challenge of the NCTS, which enters its seventh season in 2001.
He is the second African-American driver to announce his intention to compete in the series in 2001. Georgian Preston Tutt, who has competed in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series in the southeast for some five years, plans to drive a truck for Billy Ballew Motorsports.
Georgian Bobby Norfleet also attempted several events in 2000 with his own team and made one start in his 40 Street Records Chevrolet, on the road course at Portland International Raceway.
"To be involved in a factory-backed effort with Dodge is the sort of thing that drivers get into racing for," said Ribbs, who drove for the Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota factories in sports cars. "This is such a great opportunity for me to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a team as successful as Bobby Hamilton Racing.
"The series is very well publicized and generates a huge amount of media exposure. This is a series with good, tough drivers where winning the championship is something that is not easily accomplished, but very well respected."
BHR finished sixth in the 2000 NCTS championship with driver Joe Ruttman driving its No. 18 Dana Dodge. Ruttman won three times and captured the season Bud Pole Award with eight poles. Hamilton also won a pole and a race last season in his No. 4 truck.
"When this deal started coming together and I found out that Joe Ruttman would be my teammate I thought it was just about the greatest thing," Ribbs said of the driver who beat him once and lost to him once in Winston Cup races in 1986. "Joe and I have been friends for several years. I feel like we will be able to bounce ideas off each other and he will be able to help me make the transition a successful one into the series.
"Having a successful NASCAR Winston Cup driver like Bobby Hamilton as a team owner is nothing but awesome. When you have a race driver as an owner the feedback is fabulous. The synergy with this entire race team and Dodge Motorsports is already incredible and I only expect it to get better."
Dodge is positioning Ribbs' hiring as the opening of what it calls a "landmark motorsports program aimed at providing career opportunities for minorities in one of the nation's most popular sports -- NASCAR racing."
Dodge hopes the program will "create a development process for enhancing the racing careers of both minority drivers and racing technicians."
"Dodge and DaimlerChrysler have both stood for providing opportunities to qualified employees," said Jim Julow, vice president, Dodge Global Brand Center. "With the momentum and support of Dodge's return to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR's commitment to enhancing minority participation in their series, we feel this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it."
Lester -- who also has a road racing background -- has also made starts in both the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series while ardently pursuing a NASCAR driving career. Woods competes in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway and has a limited number of starts in the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring. Ribbs was seen as the best known of the candidates.
"The program provides a natural progression for talent," Julow said. "Willy T. is a real winner, and we're proud to be associated with him. It's our hope that Willy will prove to be a success in this and future seasons, and that he in turn will meet the challenges that will allow him to step up to the NASCAR Busch Series, and subsequently to his ultimate goal of racing in NASCAR's premiere circuit, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series."
BHR, whose nine Bud Poles, four wins and sixth-place championship standing were tops among Dodge teams last year, sees the addition of Ribbs as an opportunity to further enhance his team's competitiveness. The team plans to move into a new, expanded shop in Mount Juliet, Tenn., within two months and is currently at work building up its fleet of trucks for the season.
"Getting the opportunity to house a second factory-backed Dodge team was a real benefit for this Bobby Hamilton Racing team," Hamilton said. "With the No. 18 team we have made use of all the technology and engineers at Dodge to make our race team as successful as possible.
"With a second factory effort we will continue to use all of the resources that Dodge has available to its teams. This high-profile opportunity will also allow Bobby Hamilton Racing to gain notoriety as a successful racing organization and that is really something that I have been wanting to do with this race team. That is probably why, when Dodge brought this offer to me, I only had to think about it for 10 seconds before accepting."
To enhance the opportunities of African-Americans seeking to enter NASCAR racing as crewmembers for leading Dodge NASCAR teams, Dodge will help fund a scholarship program that will provide important training in the racing field and seek graduate placement within the Dodge Motorsports family.
"Willy T. Ribbs is seen as an inspiration for many aspiring African-American drivers," said NASCAR vice president Brian France. "This Dodge program not only embraces NASCAR's diversity goals, but sets the standard that others may follow."
The company's release said the Dodge Motorsports diversity program ultimately could expand to include other forms of racing in which the company participates, including road racing and drag racing. -nascar.com-