If you were to ask to name a famous African American from history which one would come to mind?...Rosa Parks?...Dr. Martin Luther King?...George Washington Carver?, Elijah McCoy?, the Buffalo soldiers?, the Tuskeegee airmen?
while all these people were famous, unforgettable, and important in our nation's history I would like nominate race car driver, his name? Wendell Scott, he was an African American who became famous in his own way, by becoming the first African American driver to win a Nascar race as well as the first African American driver to win the Nascar Grand National Championship (now today called the Monster Energy Cup Series).
he was a driver who I never heard of until I saw an ESPN documentary on him back in February 2014 and I was just impressed by this man, you could say he was like the Tuskeegee air man of Nascar he was just that great to me in my mind, this was a man who against all prejiduce and against all bigotry broke through a wall and did what no other black American did at the time and to me inspired a future generation of black drivers in America and won the hearts of thousands of white Nascar fans back in his day as well as the hearts of his fellow drivers who some at first didn't want anything to do with him.
today his name and his face are forever enshrined into the Nascar hall of fame as well as the motorsports hall of fame, his life was a bit of a roller coaster early on but eventually got better year by year, he lived a fantastic life up until his death in December 1990, let's celebrate black history month with a man which I'm a lot of you out there probably never heard of until I brought him up (I swear you all are gonna love this guy) this is the story of Wendell Scott.
Wendell Oliver Scott was born in Danville, Virginia, on August 20, 1921, since he was a boy he always wanted to be his own boss.
at the time two industries dominated Danville's local economy: cotton and tobacco, Scott vowed that he would avoid that sort of boss dominated life.
"that mill's too much like a prison" he told a friend once, " you go in and they lock a gate and you can't get out until you've done your time".
he began learning auto mechanics from his father, who worked as a mechanic and driver for two well to do white families, Scott and his sister Guelda were awed by his father's daring wits behind the wheel, "he frightened people to death" Guelda said, they say he come through town just about touching the ground.
after Scott started racing, all the old people would say the same thing "he's just like his daddy", Scott raced bicycles against white boys, in his neighborhood he said, "I was the only black boy that had a bicycle", he became a dare devil on roller skates speeding down the steep hills of Danville on one roller skate, he dropped out of high school, became a taxi driver, Married a woman named Marry Coles and served in the segregated army in Europe during World War 2.
after the war had ended he ran an auto repair shop, as a sideline he took up a dangerous and illegal line of work of running moonshine, this trade helped to give early stock car drivers such as Junior Johnson and Bill France Sr. (aka Big Bill France) and education in building cars that were fast enough to outrun the police and government agents and of course learning how to outrun the law themselves.
Wendell was only caught once by the law in 1949 and was sentenced to three years probation, he continued his late night moonshine runs while on weekends he would go to the stock car races at his local race track in Danville.
he was 30 years old when he was sitting on the bleachers of local racetracks watching the white drivers race, up to then he had lived his life under the rules of segregation.
the races in Danville were ran by the Dixie Circuit, one of several racing organizations that competed with Nascar during that time.
Danville's events always made less money than the Dixie Circuit's races at other race tracks, "we were a tobacco and textile town, people didn't have the money to spend" said Aubrey Ferrell, one of the organizers, the officials decided they would try an unusual and unprecedented gimmick, they would recruit a black driver.
next day later however brought the first of many episodes of discrimination that would effect his racing career, Scott repaired his car with the help of a black mechanic named Hiram Kincaid who previously worked with Ned Jarrett (another famous Nascar driver) and lived in North Carolina and towed it to a Nascar sanctioned race in Winston Salem North Carolina.
but the Nascar officials refused to let him compete, black driver were not allowed they said, as he drove home Scott recalled, "I had tears in my eyes", a few days later he went to another Nascar race in High Point North Carolina, again Scott wasn't allowed to race.
"the officials told I just flat told me I couldn't race, the told me I could let a white boy drive my car, I told em weren't no damn white boy going to drive my car".
Scott decided to avoid Nascar for the time being and race with the Dixie Circuit and at other non Nascar speedways, 12 days into his racing career he won his first race in Lynchburdg Virginia, it was only a short heat race in the amatuer class but in Wendell's words he said the victory was like a barb on a hook, he knew that he found his calling.
he ran as many as five races a week mostly at local Virginia tracks, some spectators would shout racial slurs at him but many others rooted for him, while some prejudice drivers would deliberately wreck him.
"they just hammered on Wendell, they figured he wasn't going to retaliate" said T. Tyler Warren (former cheif Nascar photographer) and they were right, Scott felt that because of the racial atmosphere he could not risk involved in any fist fights or dirty driving paybacks that frequently took place among white drivers.
however many other drivers came to respect Scott, they saw his skills as a mechanic and driver and they liked his quiet and uncomplaining manor, they saw him as someone similar to themselves, another hard working blue collar guy swept up in the excitement and adrenaline of racing, not somebody trying to make a racial point.
"he was a racer, you could look at somebody and tell whether they were a racer or not" said driver Rodney Ligon (who was also a moonshine runner), "didn't nobody send him to the track to represent his race, he came down because he wanted to drive a damn race car", some white drivers became close friends to Wendell and occasionally acted as his bodyguards.
some southern newspapers started writing positive stories about his performance, he began the 1953 season on the northern Virginia circuit by winning a feature race in Staunton, then he tied the Waynesboro qualifying record, a week later he won Waynesboro feature after placing first in a heat race and setting a new qualifying record.
the Waynesboro news Virginian reported that Scott had become recognized as one of most popular drivers to appear here, the Staunton news leader said he has been among the top drivers in every race here.
Wendell understood though that to rise in the sport he had somehow gain admission to all the white ranks of Nascar, he did not know Nascar's celebrated founder and president Bill France Sr. who ran the organization with an iron fist, instead Scott found a way to slip into Nascar through a side door without the knowledge or consent of anyone at Nascar's Daytona Beach headquarters, he towed his race car to a local Nascar event to Richmond Speedway (a quarter mile dirt oval track) and asked the steward to grant him a Nascar license (yes even racing requires a license just like driving requires a license from the DMV), Poston a part timer was not a powerful figure in Nascar's hierarchy, but he did have the authority to issue licenses.
he asked Scott if he knew what he was getting into, "I told him we never had any black drivers and you're going to be knocked around, he said I can take it" said Poston, he approved Scott's license.
later he confided to Scott that officials at Nascar had not been pleased with the decision, "he told me that when they found out at Daytona Beach that he had sign me up, they raised hell with him said Wendell.
Scott met bill France Sr. for the first time in April 1954, the night before Wendell said the promoter at a Nascar event in Raleigh North Carolina had given gas money to all of the white drivers who came to the track but refused to pay Wendell anything.
he also said he approached Bill France Sr. in the pits at the Lynchburg Speedway and told him what had happened.
even though France and the Raleigh promoter were friends, Scott said France immediately pulled some money out of his pocket and assured Scott Scott that Nascar would never treat him with prejudice, "he let me know my color didn't have to do with anything, he said you're a Nascar member and as of now you will always be treated as a Nascar member, and instead of giving me fifteen dollars, he reached in his pocket and gave me thirty dollars."
Wendell Scott won dozens of races during his nine years of regional level competition, his driving talent, skill as a mechanic and his hard work earned him the admiration of thousands of white fans and of his fellow racers, despite the racial prejudice that was widespread during the 1950's.
in 1959 he won two championships, Nascar awarded him the championship title for drivers of sportsmen class stock cars in the state of Virginia, and he also won the track championship in the sportsman class at Richmond's Southside Speedway.
even at this early stage of his racing career Scott would tell his friends privately that his goal was to win races at the top level of Nascar, for the rest of his career he would persue a dream whose fulfillment depended on whether Bill France backed up that promise.
in 1961 he moved up to the Grand National Division (now known today as the Monster Energy Cup Series), in 1963 he finished the season in 15th place in the points standings and on December 1st of that year driving a Chevrolet Bel Air that he purchased from Ned Jarrett, he won a race at a half mile dirt track at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida the first (and to date only) grand national event won by an African american driver (at least up until another African American driver Darrell Wallace Jr. recently became the second black driver in Nascar's top 3 series to win with his victory in Kroger 200 at Martinsville back in 2013), Wendell Scott passed Richard Petty who was driving an ailing car with 25 laps remaining for the win.
Scott was announced the winner of that race at the time, presumably due to the racist culture of the time, Buck Baker who finished in second place was proclaimed the winner, but race officials discovered two hours later that not only had Wendell Scott won the race but was also two laps ahead of the rest of the field.
Nascar awarded Scott the victory two years later but his family never actually received the trophy he earned 47 years later in 2010 and 20 years after Scott's passing.
he continued to be a competitive driver despite his low budget operation through the rest of the 1960's, in 1964 Scott finished 12th in the points standings despite missing several races.
over the next five years Wendell Scott consistently finished in the top ten in the points standings, he finished 11th in points in 1965 and a career record high 6th place in points in 1966, 10th in 1967, and 9th in 1968 and 1969, his best year in winnings was in 1969 when he won $47,451.
in 1973 Scott was involved in terrible racing accident at Talledega, his injuries from the crash forced him to retire, he achieved one win and 147 top ten finishes in 495 career starts.
he ran great career in racing made history doing so up until his retirement in 1973, but tragically on Decmeber 23, 1990 just before christmas Wendell passed away in his hometown of Danville, Virginia after losing a battle to spinal cancer, he was 69 years old at the time.
even though Wendell Scott may be gone his legacy lives on, he inspired a future generation of black drivers, as of now only seven African American drivers are known to have started at least once race in the Nascar Monster Energy Cup Series, the drivers Elias Bowie, Charlie Scott, George Wiltshire, Randy Bethea, Willy T Ribs, Bill Lester (from 2006), and the current Nascar contender still competing today Darrell (Bubba) Wallace Jr. all owe their lineage to Wendell Scott who paved the way for multi diverse generation of drivers.
as of 2018 all these drivers that after Wendell made a total of 47 career starts at Nascar's top level with Darrell Wallace making up 40 of those 47.
in 2000 Wendell Scott was inducted into the 2000 class of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015 he was inducted into the Nascar hall of fame, two years earlier in 2013 Scott was awarded his own historical marker in his native Danville,Virginia hometown, the marker's statement? "Persevering over prejudice and discrimination, Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR, with a 13-year career that included 20 top five and 147 top ten finishes."
a street in Danville was named after Wendell Scott in honor of him.
song writers and movie directors immortalized Wendell Scott as well, musician Mojo Nixon a fellow Danville native wrote a song about Wendell Scott titled "The Ballad of Wendell Scott" which is featured in a 1986 album released by Nixon and another fellow musician Skid Roper titled "Frenzy".
on July 1st 1977 movie director Michael Schultz and producers Lester Berman and Hannah Weinstein released movie called Greased Lightning, a movie loosely based on Wendell Scott's biography.
in 1975 he was featured in a book titled "The World's Number One, Flat Out All Time Great Stock Car Racing Book, written by Jerry Bledsoe.
in 2018 a Canadian tv series "Timeless" premiered, the tv show featured an episode in season 2 of a fictionalized version of Wendell Scott played by Joseph Lee Anderson, the episode portrayed Wendell's early days as a moonshiner, mechanical and driving ability, perservearance, as well as his past and future injustices due to racial discrimination as the major themes of the episode.
there's even an ESPN documentary on Wendell Scott which you can see YouTube and I highly recommend watching if you haven't yet whether or not you're an auto racing fan, it's really good and you can find the link to it at the end of this review.
Wendell started out a very poor man with a dream and a desire to race, he faced many racial challenges early in his career, he was discriminated and rejected by some but accepted by many in the racing community, while some officials prevented him from driving, others like Bill France Sr. welcomed him warmly with kindness and open arms and gave him a chance to prove himself and to show he could race just as great as all the white drivers in Nascar and in the end he had won the hearts and respect of many white fans and fellow drivers, he was a driver that many African American drivers can look up to for inspiration and say "he inspired us, he was our inspiration to chase to go out there on the track and chase our dreams."
Wendell Scott may not around anymore, but his legacy still lives on in today's generation of young African American drivers.
and that was my black history month special review on Wendell Scott, this was a review I felt like I had to do because as far as I know? he's never talked about that much during black history month and I just wanted to bring him into the spotlight.
if you all enjoyed reading this review and like to see more you can check my other reviews and give my pages on furaffinity, weasyl and twitter a watch and follow to see more.
kinda planning two months ahead right now as I'll be working on another special review soon in March next month this time it'll be a special review for Earth Day which will be coming on the 22nd of April so I'll plenty of time to think of what should wright for that future review but for the meantime I'll be working on review for March themed around St. Patrick's day mainly the shamrock part of the holiday, what would I be doing a review on that has something to do with a shamrock? well how about a car company called Panoz? who's emblem features a shamrock.
that's what will be coming soon in March and I hope you all enjoyed this review and my previous review, until then I'll see you guys for the next AutoSkunk review. :3