WENDELL SCOTT – DRIVER/OWNER (B. 08/29/21 – D. 12/23/1990)
Hometown: Danville, Virginia
Wendell Scott wasn’t the first African-American to compete in NASCAR’s premier division. But the Danville, Va. native, whose career on wheels began as a taxi driver, was the first of his race to become a full-time competitor in the series at a time where sponsors were few and drivers were measured by sheer determination.
Scott served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II where he honed his mechanical skills in the motor pool. Scott started racing in 1947. Scott experienced immediate success behind the wheel, he won over 100 races in the next decade at local area tracks.
Scott made his first start in NASCAR’s premier series March 4, 1961 at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He started the event ninth but was sidelined due to oil pressure after the first 52 laps. Scott went on to make 23 starts that season posting five top-five finishes.
On Dec. 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., Scott became the first African-American to win a NASCAR premiere series event. Scott won the 100-mile feature race on the ½ mile dirt track after starting from the 15th position. His triumph marked the high point for a man who made almost 500 career starts in NASCAR’s premier division.
Over the next 13 years, Scott would make 495 starts, tying him for 32nd on the all-time list. In his distinguished career, Scott accumulated 20 top-five finishes including eight of them in the same season he won his first career race, 1964. Scott also posted 147 top-10 finishes, more than 25% of the races he entered.
Scott’s career success earned him an induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999. NASCAR currently awards scholarships in tribute to Wendell Scott. Twelve Wendell Scott Scholarships are awarded per year to students from historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.
The Commonwealth of Virginia honored NASCAR diversity trailblazer Wendell Scott with a historical highway marker in his hometown of Danville, Va., to celebrate his legacy as the first African-American to win a race in what is now known as theNASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR over his 13-year career at NASCAR’s top level that included 20 top-five and 147 top-ten finishes in 495 starts.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia is deep with NASCAR heritage and support,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “Wendell Scott is very much a part of NASCAR’s and Virginia’s history. We join others in thanking the Commonwealth of Virginia for the honor they are bestowing on Mr. Scott, one that is well deserved. The Scott family has been instrumental to NASCAR as we developed our multicultural efforts, and it was Wendell Scott who served as such an inspiration to us all.”
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For years, Wendell Scott Jr. said he has attempted to share the unvarnished story of his father’s tumultuous journey as a NASCAR pioneer.
“I’ve done hundreds of interviews,” he said. “Most of what I have to say never gets past the editors.”
According to Scott, Jr., an incident at Bristol Motor Speedway in the mid-1960s is illustrative of the hardships Wendell Scott faced on a weekly basis.
“My brother, Frankie, a cousin and a couple friends came to Bristol with some uniforms we had made up,” Scott Jr. said. “Our names were stenciled on the back along with daddy’s No. 34 car number. Man, we looked great.”
The trouble, Scott Jr. said, started just as his father was beginning to make his practice runs around the infamous track.
“NASCAR officials came up to daddy and said that he couldn’t race unless we all shaved our beards,” he said. “That just tore out daddy’s guts. He was so upset.”
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In honor of the 50th anniversary of African-American racing pioneer Wendell Scott’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, all NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup cars competing this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will display a commemorative decal bearing Scott’s image.
Scott made his first start in NASCAR’s premier series 50 years ago – March 4, 1961 – in Spartanburg, S.C. On Dec. 1, 1963 in Jacksonville, Fla., Scott became the first African-American to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
“What an amazing way to honor my father,” said daughter Deborah Scott. “Knowing that every car in both national series will roll onto the track this weekend with a decal honoring our dad makes me smile and makes me proud.”
Drive for Diversity drivers Michael Cherry, who last season became the first African-American to win at Tri-County Speedway, and Ryan Gifford, who in 2010 became the first African-American driver in NASCAR K&N Pro Series history to win a pole, will join Deborah Scott at LVMS to further recognize this special occasion.
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One of the highest rated program on the Nashville Network’s Inside NASCAR, this feature was one Wendell Scott’s last interview.
As construction of Nascar’s $146 million Hall of Fame takes shape in Charlotte, N.C., racing fans are arguing over the nominees for the first five inductees to be honored there.
But the biggest debate may be over a name missing from the 25 contenders announced last month: Nascar’s pioneering black driver, Wendell O. Scott.
“Wendell Scott was a hero Nascar didn’t want,” Larry Edsall, the former managing editor of AutoWeek magazine, wrote online.
The omission is also stirring broader discussion of Nascar’s past discrimination and what critics say is its continued record as the nation’s least diverse major sport.
Since Scott broke the racial barrier more than half a century ago, several minority and female drivers have competed in some events. Despite a nine-year diversity program, all but one of the 125 regular drivers in Nascar’s three national racing series are white males. The sole ethnic minority is Juan Pablo Montoya, who is Hispanic.
“It appears that all those splashy press conferences and impassioned speeches on diversity from Nascar officials were just empty platitudes,” wrote Allen Gregory, the racing columnist for The Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia.
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