At noon today, NASCAR driver, Chase Austin, 21, will make his Indy Lights debut as part of the Willy T. Ribbs Racing team at the Firestone Freedom 100. The race will take place at the Mecca of driving fast, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is part of events leading up to Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 on May 29.
Austin, from Eudora, Kansas, qualified for the race on May 26. The Ribbs team that Austin competes for is connected to Brooks Associates Raciing and Starting Grid Inc. The latter is a company started by Chris Miles, an African-American, devoted to the diversity of professional motor sports.
Austin began racing go-carts when he was eight, but told BlackAmericaWeb.com that by age 12 he knew what he wanted to do for a living. “My parents thought it was just a phase, and pretty soon I would go back to playing basketball or football, but that didn’t happen. I love cars and racing,” said Austin.
For the past two racing seasons, Austin has competed in the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series.
If he does well, his success may bring more African-American fans to the nearly all-white sport. But doing well is expensive as Austin says it takes a couple million dollars a year to keep an Indy car on the track. And racers have to show they can race fast, if not always win.
Ribbs said, “It takes money to make the cars go faster, but if you don’t show speed on the track in the first place, it’s difficult to land sponsors.”
Twenty years ago, in 1991, Ribbs became the first African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and he qualified again in 1993.
Austin drives car number 75. It was the number that Ribbs used when he drove for a team supported by Bill Cosby in 1993 and 1994.
Ribbs, born in 1955, competed in a variety of four-wheeled sports. He opened many doors in competitive auto racing. Ribbs was the first African-American to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500, first black to compete in NASCAR's Winston Cup series, First African American to compete in CART/Indy Car Championship in partnership with Bill Cosby and the first black to test for Formula 1 Grand Prix team.
Want to watch, or listen to, Chase race? Go to cable’s Versus Network at noon EST or turn your ears to the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM’s IndyCar Racing Channel 94. Ribbs has been a Versus racing analyst.
(Photo: Joey Foley/Getty Images)