Q: The recent poor choice of speech by Kyle Larson reminds me of the multi-part article on Marshall Pruett’s website about Willy T. Ribbs’ sour introduction to Indy. Ribbs made it clear that chief mechanic Paul Leffler was not interested in helping him get up to speed, and says that Leffler was the biggest racist he’d ever met in racing. You are also quoted in the article, but did not mention racial tension.
Knowing nothing about Leffler beyond his role in this story and his USAC involvement, could it be that he was against Willy T because of his racing background (road racing instead of sprints & midgets) rather than his race, or was he truly a racist? In other words, perhaps he perceived racism through Leffler’s open hostility to “another damn road racer” coming to Indy? Though William Theodore has a tendency to exaggerate for effect, I don’t want to accuse him of lying. However, racism is a highly serious charge, and I wouldn’t want to have this opinion of Leffler based upon only one man’s perspective.
Steve in Redding, CA
RM: I’m friends with Greg Leffler (former USAC sprint champion), but only knew Paul from afar and he was an old-school mechanic who did things his way. Having said that, I was sitting on the pit wall when Willy went out, and with no windshield and a turbo for Milwaukee, it was probably about as uncomfortable a ride as anyone could have imagined. A couple people joked that Willy was so scared he “turned white”, and there were some racial undertones to that whole scene. Not saying Leffler was a racist, but also not saying he was unhappy when Ribbs walked away.
Q: Kyle Larson seemed to dominate last week’s Mailbag, which brings me to a memory of Conor Daly losing his sponsorships over his father saying that word before he was even born. I know we are talking nearly a couple decades away, but let’s say Owen Larson pursues racing, could you forecast the possibility of him having trouble gaining sponsorship in a major racing series such as IndyCar or NASCAR just because of something his father did some time ago? With so many different drivers trying their hand at iRacing IndyCar, who would you love to see iRace an IndyCar next?
Kevin from North Carolina
RM: No I can’t imagine that, and the account of Derek Daly’s faux pas was widely inaccurate in terms of facts and who said what and to whom. Conor lost his sponsor that weekend, but kept his ride. We’re a pretty forgiving place, so I think Kyle will be back on track sooner than later because of his talent. And, please, no more iRacing.
Q: I am an F1, IndyCar, IMSA, WEC, etc., fan. I watch a few NASCAR races a year, but am not a Kyle Larson or NASCAR fan. What little I know of Larson is that he appears to be as good a driver as anyone in NASCAR today. The word he used has become forbidden in today’s hand-wringing, “so sensitive” society based on solely who says it. Skin color, context, political position, etc., of the speaker, are the sole determinants of the acceptability of the use of the word by any particular person. We all need to grow a pair and focus on what is really important in out lives. Namely God, family, and the liberty that allows a person to become anything he wants to be America if he is truly willing to work at it.
I guess I just miss the days when “men were men,” when differences of opinion were tolerated, when A.J. Foyt could punch out Arie Luyendyk in the winner’s circle, and when Michael Andretti could scream in his radio on TV, “these f****** Goodyears.” Kyle Larson will race again in the big time. He’s too good not to. This “sin” will blow over for the sole reason that ultimately, it means nothing. And when that time comes, I think I will probably watch him and become a Kyle Larson fan. Even if he drives NASCAR!
RM: The greatest endorsement Larson got came from Willy T. Ribbs after they talked on the phone. Obviously it was a poor choice of words in what turned out to be a public forum, but W.T. said it wasn’t used maliciously and he didn’t think Larson was a racist. And time will heal and Kyle will again be racing. Like Ribbs said: “he didn’t murder anyone.”
Q: My condolences to the Lazier family. Bob sounded like a great guy and real success story. I almost fell out of my chair when I read that he bought his first lot in Vail for $7,000! The fact that their family ran in recent years at Indy was so cool and really refreshing to see. It sounds like he could have had a good racing career if he would have stuck with it. What are your memories of him?
Tate in Kansas
RM: Just that he got a late start in Indy cars, but was always pleasant and thankful for the opportunity. Then he was so proud of Buddy and Jacques, and super-excited for Flinn’s future.