Racing Legend Willy T. Ribbs to Share Inspiring Story at SEMA Show - Engine Builder Magazine

Racing Legend Willy T. Ribbs to Share Inspiring Story at SEMA Show

Legendary African American racecar driver Willy T. Ribbs will share his story of triumph and overcoming adversity during a special Fireside Chat with moderator Beth Paretta of Paretta Autosport at the 2023 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nev.

The Fireside Chat will take place Thursday, Nov. 2, in the North Hall (Room N258) beginning at 11 am. The event is part of a comprehensive SEMA Show Education program that focuses on leadership and year-round skill development.

Ribbs, “The Man. The Myth. The Legend,” will share his incredible life story as a pioneer in motorsports, shattering barriers and paving the way for generations of racecar drivers.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned throughout my career is to never quit on yourself, because the only person who’s going to beat you is you,” said Ribbs. “That’s a lesson that applies in life as well as on the racetrack, and I’m looking forward to sharing that with SEMA Show attendees.”

Ribbs has defied barriers and made history at every step in his motorsports career. Behind the wheel, he’s competed in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the IndyCar Series and the IMSA GT Championship. He is the first African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, win a major professional race in the United States and to drive a Formula One racecar.

Born in northern California, Ribbs became interested in racing at 9 years old watching his father, William “Bunny” Ribbs Sr., a plumbing contractor and amateur sportscar racer, and serving on his race team. After moving to Europe to compete in 1977, at 22, Ribbs won the Dunlop/Autosport Star of Tomorrow FF1600 in his first year of competition, winning six races in 11 starts. 

His many on-track accomplishments include the 1977 Dunlop Formula Ford championship; 1982 Long Beach Formula Atlantic pole winner; 1987-’88 International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Driver of the Year; and 2021 inductee into the Long Beach Grand Prix Hall of Fame.

Beyond the track, in 2020 Ribbs was featured in the documentary, “UPPITY: The Willy T. Ribbs Story,” currently airing on Amazon Prime Video. In 2022 he was named Formula One Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Willy T. Ribbs has changed the landscape of motorsports,” said Pamela Brown-Matthis, SEMA Director of Education. “His personal story of resolve, to never quit or allow yourself to be defeated, will certainly resonate with our members as they look to successfully navigate challenges in the industry.”

Ribbs will be joined onstage by moderator Beth Paretta, CEO and team principal at Paretta Autosport, the first woman-owned, woman-driven and woman-forward team in IndyCar history. 

The 2023 SEMA Show Education Program includes 99 learning sessions, including six highly focused SEMA Education tracks, the Dale Carnegie Leadership Essentials program, a Women in Automotive Symposium, an on-site electric vehicle (EV) certification program and many others.

“The breadth of education programs offered at the SEMA Show ensures there’s something for everyone in attendance,” said Andy Tompkins, SEMA Trade Show Director. “The SEMA Show Main Stage Speakers provide a compelling mix of personal development and business intelligence that make it one of the many ‘can’t-miss’ features of the Show.”

The Fireside Chat is free for all 2023 SEMA Show attendees. To learn more and register to attend, visit

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