Thursday, December 5, 2013

Checkered Past: Dec. 1, 1963 – Wendell Scott Breaks the Barrier

Mural of Wendell Scott
Photo credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/Rainier Ehrhardt
In October at Martinsville Speedway, Darrell Wallace Jr. became just the second African-American driver to win in NASCAR’s top-tier series and the first in nearly 50 years. Wallace Jr.’s historic Camping World Truck Series victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports put him in the spotlight as the second Drive for Diversity graduate to win in 2013, following in the footsteps of fellow D4D grad Kyle Larson. Before Wallace Jr., Larson and other minority drivers visited the fast tracks of NASCAR, however, Wendell Scott blazed a trail of his own, helping them make their dreams a reality.

Wendell Oliver Scott was born Aug. 29, 1921. Due to the segregation of the era, Scott would not get a chance to race until he was in his 30s, spending his early years in the blacks-only section of the bleachers in his hometown of Danville, Virginia, watching “the good ol’ boys” compete. He competed for the first time in 1952, driving on the Dixie Circuit, then a regional NASCAR competitor.

After competing in his first Dixie Circuit race, he took his car to a NASCAR-sanctioned race at Winston-Salem, but NASCAR officials refused to let him race – black drivers weren’t allowed. After this happened a second time, Scott decided to avoid NASCAR and stick with the Dixie Circuit for the time being, where he was rewarded with his first victory – an amateur class heat race – just 12 days into his career.

In 1953, Scott still had NASCAR aspirations, and packed up his car to visit the 0.25-mile dirt oval at Richmond Speedway for a NASCAR-sanctioned race. He was granted a NASCAR license by track steward Mike Poston, who later took heat for granting the license to Scott.

Scott spent nine years in NASCAR’s regional levels, winning races, fans and two championships in spite of the prejudice he still faced. In 1961, he moved into the Grand National Division (now Sprint Cup Series), and on Dec. 1, 1963, Scott took home the checkered flag from Speedway Park in Florida, becoming the first, and thus far only, African-American driver to win in NASCAR’s highest series.

In 13 years (1961 to 1973) in the Cup Series, Scott amassed 147 top-10 finishes. He passed on Dec. 23, 1990 from spinal cancer.

Learn more about Scott at his induction page for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (inducted 1999).

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