Tue Oct 13 04:38pm EDT
[Editor's note: Reader Carol F. continues her look at the people and places of NASCAR with this report on famed driver Wendell Scott.]
In the 1950's and 1960's, stock car racing was a cold scene if you were a black man who wanted to race cars. So imagine my surprise when I learned that racing had actually gone looking for one.
After mechanic training in the Army during WWII, Wendell Scott brought his new skills back home to Danville, Virginia, driving a taxi by day and running moonshine at night. In 1949, a race promoter trying to bring more warm bodies to the local dirt track went to the Danville police to find out who was the fastest black man on four wheels. Since he had already gotten 13 speeding tickets while driving his taxi and become accomplished at eluding pursuit when he was running moonshine, the top guy on their list was Wendell Scott.
Already a fan of racing, Wendell put all his passion and skill into scraping together the cars and the financial backing to make this dream come true. His sons crewed for him; his wife kept everybody fed. He got a bit of help from other drivers such as Earl Brooks and Ned Jarrett, but he still had to fight the attitude of the day. He encountered discrimination on a regular basis, but he accepted it stoically and kept up his efforts. He didn't back down, didn't take revenge, and gradually he worked his way up to the Grand National Division; what we now call Sprint Cup.
So imagine the consternation in the officials' office when he had the audacity to actually win a race at this top level in December 1963. What to do? So they went ahead and waved the checkers over Buck Baker, who was running third, two laps behind Wendell Scott and second-place Richard Petty, who was nursing an ailing car. Buck went to Victory Lane and kissed the pretty ladies; Buck got the trophy. But Scott and his team protested the ruling, and three hours later, officials awarded him the win, chalking it up to a "scoring error." Buck may have walked out with the trophy, but Wendell took home the purse.
Scott's driving career pretty much came to an end in 1973 after major injuries in a 21-car Big One at Talladega Superspeedway. He passed away in 1990. "I'm so glad we never gave up," Scott's widow Mary said. "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 ... They knew he was a genuine person and he stood for what he believed. He didn't give up."
Scott was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall Of Fame at Talledega in 1999. He remains the only black driver ever to win at Nascar's top level.
Wendell Scott [Legends of NASCAR]
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