Last updated on June 23rd, 2015 at 02:53 pm
During his 13-year premier series career, Wendell Scott likely never considered he was making NASCAR history. His concern was getting to the next race on a miniscule budget, as most drivers struggled financially. The odds of making a good living racing stock cars were long in the 1960s and early 1970s when purses were small, large sponsors unheard of, and manufacturer support came and went.
But Scott faced a challenge not shared by his fellow competitors: that of an African American battling to succeed in a still-segregated society. Measured against that backdrop, Scott succeeded admirably. He became the first (and to date, only) Black driver to win a NASCAR premier series race, at Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963. He made 495 starts to rank 37th on the series’ all-time list, posting 147 top-10 finishes, more than 25 percent of the races he entered. Scott finished four times among the top 10 in driver championship standings including a sixth in 1966.
Scott owned and prepared the second hand Chevrolets and Fords which carried his No. 34. Without sponsorship, tires and spare parts were cast offs from other teams, Scott’s pit crew was usually comprised of his sons. Scott never used that as excuse to give less than 100%, and he finished 321 of those 495 starts.
“We weren’t allowed to use the words ‘can’t’ and ‘never.’ He didn’t believe in those words,” said Franklin Scott, one of Scott’s seven children and a member of his father’s pit crew. “He instilled in everybody he met that if you’re willing to work and do the things necessary to be successful, you can be successful.”
He logged superspeedway top 10s at Atlanta, Charlotte, Daytona Beach, Dover and Darlington, and twice finished seventh in Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Dixie 400. Scott also finished seventh in a Daytona 500 qualifying race.
“If he had had the proper equipment, I believe he would have been a winner a lot of times,” said 1960 premier series champion Rex White, sentiments echoed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett, a two-time premier series champion: “If he’d had the equipment or financial backing that I and others had, he would have won more races.”
Wendell Oliver Scott was born Aug. 29, 1921 in Danville, Virginia. His father was an expert mechanic, a trade the young Scott quickly learned. After serving in Europe during World War II, Scott returned home to become a taxi driver, who also transported illegal whiskey. He competed in his first race at the Danville fairgrounds winning $50. Over the next decade Scott won more than 100 sportsman and modified stock car races as well as the Virginia State Sportsman championship.
Scott made his NASCAR premier series debut at age 39 on March 4, 1961 at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina, driving a year-old Chevrolet purchased from Buck Baker. He continued as a series regular until 1973, his career ended by an accident at Talladega Superspeedway.
In 1990, Scott lost a battle to cancer at age 69. In January 2013 Scott was awarded his own historical marker in Danville, proclaiming in part, “Persevering over prejudice and discrimination, Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR.”
Wendell Scott joined Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Joe Weatherly and Rex White as the five 2015inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 30. Scott previously was inducted into the National Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Richard Pryor starred as Scott in the 1977 Warner Brothers film Greased Lightning co-starring Pam Grier and Cleavon Little, and co-written by Melvin van Peebles.