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NASCAR's Black Pioneer: Wendell Scott


Wendell Scott

Wendell Scott

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Photo of Wendell Scott (center) and his two sons, Frank and
Wendell Scott Jr., courtesy of NASCAR Archives.

 

NASCAR, for years, has been perceived as a white man's sport. Over the years, especially in the sanctioning body's early stages, that may have been the case. Times are changing, though, made evident through NASCAR's "Drive 4 Diversity" initiative that began several years ago in an attempt to bring female and minority drivers into the fold.

Despite the white perspective, NASCAR isn't without its own black history. As America celebrates Black History Month in February, NASCAR has the ability to celebrate its own black pioneer -- Wendell Scott.

Scott was the first, and to this day, only, black driver to win a race in NASCAR's Grand National division, now more famously known as the Sprint Cup Series, claiming his one and only series win on Dec. 1, 1963, at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., according to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Scott faced adversity throughout his racing career that began on the local level around his hometown of Danville, Va., in 1947. Scott went on to win 128 amateur races on his shoestring budget before hitting NASCAR's big time in a car bought from fellow racer Buck Baker in 1961.

By the time 1963 rolled around, Scott was racing a car he purchased from another NASCAR driver, Ned Jarrett, and he drove that car to his victory that the driver he bought his first NASCAR racer from -- Baker -- was originally declared the winner of.

Hours later, officials determined that Scott, not Baker, won that race. But Scott never got to enjoy victory lane. He never even got to hoist the winner's trophy. The trophy for that race win was eventually presented to his family, years after his death from cancer in 1990.

According to many around the sport at the time of Scott's win, NASCAR wouldn't allow him to celebrate in victory lane, because that would mean he'd be able to kiss the white beauty queen/trophy girl.

According to NASCAR, though, a scoring error was the reason for the mistake. Scott had another version of what happened.

"Everybody in the place knew I had won the race," Scott said in later years, according to Legends of NASCAR . "But the promoters and NASCAR officials didn't want me out there kissing any beauty queens or accepting any awards."

Scott competed until severe racing injuries sustained at Talladega Superspeedway forced his retirement from NASCAR in 1973. He raced for most of his career with little to no support, either financial or moral.

"I was a black man," Scott told Legends of NASCAR. "They wasn't going to help a black man. That was all there was to it."

Despite the lack of assistance, Scott, along with a crew that was made up of himself and sons Frank and Wendell Jr., soldiered to 147 top-10 race finishes in 495 race starts, according to Wikipedia.

"I'm so glad we never gave up," Scott's widow, Mary Scott, said, according to Legends of NASCAR. "When Ned Jarrett and all of those old drivers came to Scott's funeral, they told us he had the respect of all the drivers. I'd say all of those older guys learned to like him and respect him. They knew he was a genuine person and he stood for what he believed. He didn't give up."

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