When the Superstar Racing Experience roster rolls into town on June 12 at Stafford Motor Speedway, Willy T. Ribbs expects his cohorts to look something like The Magnificent Seven.
He doesn’t mean the remake either.
“The version with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen,” Ribbs said. “That. Only it’s going to be 12, right? So go back and watch The Magnificent Seven from the sixties. That theme song is going to be playing for us.”
Like The Magnificent Seven, Ribbs is a throwback to a bygone era and he is no longer required to give any expletives, what little he had to give in the first place in a career that spanned NASCAR, IndyCar and Sports Cars.
During a Wednesday press conferences teasing the six-race IROC but with a grassroots twist mini-series, Ribbs was completely unfiltered, unfettered and unrestricted … and that was during a teleconference that also included the always unpredictable Paul Tracy.
It’s one last national spotlight for Ribbs and he’s making the most of it.
“I don’t know about the moth balls, but this probably saved me from the glue factory,” Ribbs said. “I’ve been out to pasture, head down and tail wagging. It’s going to be a bang baby, that’s all I can tell you. I mean, we got the young lions and we got the older lions and then we got the real old lions and everybody’s going to be biting — they’re biting each other.”
Does Ribbs plan to be the banger or the bangee?
“Uh, I’ll leave that for porn,” Ribbs said.
The series will air live for six consecutive Saturday nights on CBS with the races taking place from Stafford, Knoxville Raceway, Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Slinger Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds.
“When I first got the call to do this, I had never heard of a Slinger,” Ribbs said. “When I got messages from people about what the calendar is going to be, I said, swinger.
“I had never heard of Slinger before. I said, ‘We’re going to swinger speedway. Where are you? Where’s a swinger? What are they swinging? I say, ‘no, we’re not swingers.’ Then I realized it was a Slinger.”
At 66 years old, it’s not clear how much left in the tank Ribbs has as a professional racer, especially against competitors still in something more closely resembling their primes like Ernie Francis Jr., Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Hélio Castroneves.
There’s a soundbite for that, too.
“Oh yeah, no, no,” Ribbs said. “His name is no longer Hélio Castroneves. It’s Fidel Castro Nevers. You’re in trouble, Hélio because we’re coming to get you. It’s going to be fun, and this is what people want to see.
“They want to see great races, but the drivers want to have fun, too. You know, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be serious and we’re playing for marbles.”
Yeah, but can we really expect these drivers to race each other hard since they’re all friends?
“We’re not friends,” Ribbs said. “I think we know each other.”
While co-founders Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham say Superstar Racing Experience isn’t intended to challenge any currently existing sanctioning body, and instead is a compliment to them, Tracy absolutely intends to fill a void.
“One of the things that’s lost guys in today’s motorsports is the personality, and guys like Willie and myself, Tommy Kendall, who delivered a show on and off the racetrack,” Tracy said. “I think things are pretty sterile.
“This group that we have assembled with SRX and Tony, there’s a lot of personalities and a lot of guys who like to get into conflicts so that’s going to create a lot of excitement.”
Ribbs expects a degree of carnage.
“I hope Ray has built a lot of extra cars because we’re going to need them,” Ribbs said. “This isn’t going to be kumbaya. It’s going to be kum-my-ass.
Stewart said he expects hard racing between this inaugural roster of full-time legends and the steady rotation of current day champions that will challenge them over the next two months.
“Remember one thing,” Stewart says, “We’re still racing and we’re still going for wins and trophies. So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have when you take the green flag.”
At 23, Francis is much younger than Tracy, Ribbs and Stewart, but not as bombastic as his new contemporaries. With that said, he’s also expecting a short track dogfight this summer.
“Everybody has great mutual respect for everyone else,” the seven-time TRANS-AM champion said. “The young guys and the old guys, but no one is coming to this thing to fool around and look like an idiot.
“Everyone is going to give it their best, and do what it takes, you want to beat everyone that takes the green flag — whether it’s for the lead of for fifth and sixth. You’re going to fight as hard as possible against everyone every Saturday night.”
That means taking this seriously and putting in the work. For Tracy and Francis, that means getting on iRacing and turning laps at each of these short and dirt tracks just to get the braking points and layout memorize.
“Are these tracks on iRacing,” Tracy asks.
“Do you got your sim ready, Willie,” Tracy asks again.
“I’m a little bit, you know too old school for that,” Ribbs said. “You know, somebody asked me about that a while back and I told him, ‘Look, you know, if there was a sim sex machine, I’d think about it, right?
“AJ (Foyt) and Uncle Bobby (Unser) would look at me ask, ‘what are you doing?’ All this high-tech stuff today is beyond me so I’ll look at the track, drive around it in a street car or a rental car, because that’s how we did it in the old days, right PT?”
“That’s how you did it,” Tracy said.
“Listen, I didn’t fall off the turnip or watermelon truck or whatever last night,” Ribbs said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Turnip truck. Definitely turnip and not watermelon. I don’t want (Al) Sharpton calling me.”
The old gunslinger rides again.
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