Wendell Scott

Not only is February the opening of NASCAR's new season, it is also black history month. A month in which the lives and the struggle of a race and its leaders are celebrated. This is the time of year to also remember and pay tribute to one of NASCAR's forgotten legends, Wendell Scott, the only African-American to win a NASCAR event in its more than fifty years of existence.

Wendell Scott's struggle was like many African-Americans, a struggle to survive. Scott was a black man trying to make it in the white man's sport of Southern stock car racing.

After serving his country during World War II, Wendell came back home to Danville, Virginia, where he began to work on cars during the day and run moonshine at night. Wendell was the best moonshine runner around, as he was never caught by the local police. In 1949, he and his wife, Mary, ventured into the world of stock car racing.

For a decade Wendell Scott dominated the small quarter-mile and three-eighths mile dirt tracks throughout southern Virginia and the Carolinas. In 1959, Scott reached the pinnacle of his career winning the Sportsman championship at Southside Speedway in Richmond and NASCAR's Virginia State Sportsman championship. In 1961 Scott made the leap from the short tracks of Virginia to the ranks of the NASCAR Grand National Series. The move was hard on the family as the trips became longer and Mary and the six kids came along. In 1963 Wendell Scott became the first African-American to win a NASCAR event at Jacksonville.

However, due to the color of his skin he wasn't initially awarded the victory. Wendell Scott was two laps in front of the second place car driven by Buck Baker in that event. NASCAR wouldn't drop the checkered flag fearing a riot if a black man won, so Buck Baker took the checkered flag and enjoyed the celebration and the trophy. Wendell grew enraged at NASCAR's decision, knowing he had been wrongfully robbed. Scott was awarded the victory a few days later and awarded a trophy a month later in Savannah. It wasn't the real trophy though; it was hardly more than a stick of wood covered with varnish. No nameplate of nothing. Nothing to signify its significance. Wendell's son, Franklin, remembers the trouble his father went through because of his race.

Franklin said that it seemed two drivers, Neil Castles and Jack Smith, really had it in for his father. Once in Savannah in 1962, Wendell had just set a track record in the time trial when Smith approached and told Scott that his five cars would run through Scott's Chevrolet when the flag dropped. It turned out though that none of Smith's cars could keep up with Scott's car as he finished second in the race to Ned Jarrett. After the race Scott received an apology, but not from Smith. Franklin remembers, "Joe Weatherly came to our pit after the race and he said, "Wendell, I just came to apologize for the rest of those stupid sons of bitches." After a few run-ins with Smith, Scott decided that he'd had enough. Smith had wrecked Scott at Winston-Salem.

On the pace lap Smith pulled alongside Scott and started pointing at him. Scott whipped out a gun and pointed it at Smith. The Scott's never had trouble with Jack Smith again. Despite some driver's racism toward Scott, not all drivers felt the same way. Richard Petty, Joe Weatherly, and Fireball Roberts were among the stars that helped Scott out. One time in Jacksonville, Tiny Lund came over and gave Scott four tires to qualify on. Most stock car drivers respected Scott because he was a lot like them.

Wendell Scott was forced to leave NASCAR in 1973 following a crash at Talladega Superspeedway that almost left him crippled. Wendell Scott died of spinal cancer on December 22, 1990. He will forever be remembered for the role he played in the history of NASCAR.

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