Colorless At Indianapolis 500

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: June 3, 2005

EL CERRITO, CA—History whizzed by at two hundred and twenty miles an hour around the old brickyard this pass weekend. This was not the first time and it probably will not be the last time. History is always receptive to diversities. This year the diversity came in a package called Danica Patrick. She has done the improbable. However there is a mounting problem in the mid-west town, home of The Racing Hall of Fame.

When television viewers looked into the large sun drenched stadium there was something missing Memorial Day, the ever-present absences of COLOR. Few African Americans attend this yearly event or even watch it on television. The racing industry is making an effort to change these facts

This year Colin Powell the former Secretary of State and General Chief of Staff drove the pace car around the track. (The car starts the Indy 500 every year). Also the Indiana Pacer basketball Star Reggie Miller served as Grand Marshall. It has been said that Miller can truly be called “Mr. Indiana”. Many eyebrows were raised when African American actor Morgan Freeman took the pace car honors last year. This is an attempt by The (IRL) Indy Racing League committee to woe African American fans. Do we all need to be reminded that racing fans come to see the drivers not famous personalities? The Indy Racing League still wants to attract more fans of color. Will the use of great personalities change the minds of African Americans? Only time will tell.

It is imperative that anyone who participates in the racing circuit have corporate sponsors, a veteran pit crew, and a good driver.

In 1991 and 1993 William Theodore Ribbs Jr. and in 2002 George Mack became the first African Americans to ever drive on the famous Brickyard. Willy T. Ribbs received corporate sponsorship from actor and comedian Bill Cosby in 1986. The Raynor-Cosby Motor Sports Team became the first African American motor sports team in American history.

In 1983William Theodore Ribbs Jr. was (NASCAR’s) National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing pro rookie of the year. Ribbs won many races but never won the big Indy 500 prize. He placed 29th in 1991, did not place in1993, and got bumped (pushed out) in 1994. As of today no African American has placed in the top ten at Indy. African American drivers have a very difficult time getting behind the wheel of any Indy style racecar. The fact remains that there still no African American Drivers participating in IRL 2005 car meets.

In the meantime, female drivers have taken the spotlight. The bright new glamorous star, Dianica Patrick led the pack of 33 Indy style cars this year. She led the race for 19 laps certainly this was an outstanding achievement in a field dominated by men. Ms. Patrick has made a statement. She ended the race in fourth place without gas in her car. Can you imagine what could have happen if her car had full tank of fuel? Ms. Patrick captured the whole world including me for two and half-hours. The television ratings proved it with numbers that doubled last years viewing audience. Indy Car racing was on its deathbed and Ms. Patrick revived it. The whole country was talking about the Indy 500. Most Americans wanted Ms. Patrick to win and show up all of those macho men.

Many women have donned the racing suit and climbed into their 3000-pound racecars but none of them have ever lead a single lap of an Indy 500 race. None of them were even considered a threat to win the race. It appeared that the Indy 500 racing committee just went along with the Sports Title Nine requirements to keep the radical feminist quiet. Janet Guthrie climbed into her cockpit and drove her car into ninth place in 1978. Guthrie was the first female to race at the Brickyard. She paved the way for this year’s sensation.

Twenty Three year old Dianica Patrick from Roscoe, Ill. changed all of that on Memorial Day, May 29, 2005. With the assistance of television late night host and corporate sponsor David Letterman Dianica took her racecar to the front of the pack and became the first woman ever to lead in the Brickyard. The Letterman-Rahal-Motor sports Team had the best pit crew in the Brickyard. Patrick used it to her advantage and she did all of this after her car stalled in lap 77. She also crashed on a re-start in lap 142 while trying to warm up her car’s tires, and then exhibited the skill to avoid the Indy wall.

At the end of the race almost every reporter ran to Dianica Patrick’s pit area to get an interview from her. The winner Englishmen Dan Wheldon was left out on the track unattendant while his car had to get pushed into the winner circle. His car crossed the start finish line out of gas. Wheldon took about ten to fifteen minutes to arrive in the winner circle. Just enough time for Ms. Patrick to soak up her newly found fame.

Ms. Dianica Patrick propelled woman’s rights forward in motor sports. The time has come for African Americans to take that same step.

The question now is when will we see an African American Driver raise that gallon milk bottle in victory?