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Remembering Wendell Scott In Black History Month
By Eric Graham
Updated: February 28, 2014
NASCAR starts their season like no other sport with the Daytona 500. The racing community’s big game starts the beginning of the season unlike the other sports at the end of the season. Wendell Scott was a part of this history.
In his very first race In 1947 Wendell Scott was awarded fifty dollars for placing third driving a borrowed car from a friend. He was hook forever.
This was only the beginning of a long hard journey for an innovator. He endured many challenges such as racism, sabotage, and drivers who drove carelessly on the track, running him off the road.
History records that Wendell Scott was the first Black stock car driver in America. Everyone recognized the number 34 his blue and white Chevy. NASCAR drivers stated that Scott was the best driver that they had ever seen. If he had acquired the proper equipment and the time to practice with the proper rest time he would have won more races.
Mr. Scott was born in Danville, Virginia in 1921. He was a quiet man that knew how to fix cars. His father left the family early in his life so he never had the privilege of male bonding. This is something most young Black males seek still are looking for today.
At 14 his mother allowed him to drive the family car. He drove her to church and to the store every weekend. The driving age was 18 therefore so he was driving underage. He loved it. Wendell’s I.Q. was very high and this led to an advantage later in his long life.
Mr. Scott became well known as the best moonshine runner in the Danville, Virginia. The Danville police Department relate the story of the day when they tried to catch him on in Fall Creek Run Road. They stated that the police cars had him block on this narrow road. Wendell just threw his car in reverse and drove past both police cars. Driving backward right into his garage. He quickly removed the engine from his car and hung it on a hook before the police arrived. Scott was working on the engine when the police arrived. They arrested him and took him to court. The judge asked both police offices, “How can a man outrun you and then be in the garage working on the engine of the car that you were chasing”? Both officers looked at each other and just shrugged their shoulders. The judge released Scott citing that he could not have taken the motor out of the car that fast.
The new two-way police radio ended Mr. Scott’s moon shinning days.
Wendell finally settled down with two jobs working as a car mechanic and a taxi driver.
World War Two interrupted his life like many other Americans; Scott served in the armed forces in. He drove jeeps for General George Patton. He stated that he had never seen anybody that drove like Scott. General Patton wanted Scott to remain in the Army and his unit but Scott went home to marry his best friend Mary. They had been dating before he left to serve in the armed forces in Europe and the fight for world freedom.
During his racing career his family became his pit crew. These young men and women knew more about cars than most children their age. This was the only way that Scott could race. No one wanted to be on his crew because he was an African American. Another factor was that Scott could not afford to hire a pit crew so his family took all the responsibilities of a stock car racing pit crew.
Scott won 128 races and was always in the top 100 in every race. He was always in the top ten 20 times in spite of the fact that he was using inferior equipment and run down cars.
On December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla. Scott beat Buck Baker. On this day Scott became the first African American to win a professional NASCAR race. This record still stands. Scott won many more races but NASCAR never recorded them.
When Scott was near the age of 50, he suffered his worst accident ever on the Talladega Superspeedway track. This crash ended his 20-year racing career. Another car ran over his car almost killing him. He suffered broken legs and arms but still wanted to race. His family convinced him to put the steering wheel down. This was and is the spirit of a champion. He overcame the fact that in one race that he clearly won the flagman did not drop the checkered flag a symbol of victory. The flag fell only after racecar champion Buck Baker crossed the finish line. Mr. Scott knew he had won the race and NASCAR officials finally admitted a month later that indeed he was the winner. This happened one month after everybody had gone home and forgotten about the race. This happened to him many times but Wendell just wanted to race.
Mr. Scott taught the world about racial tolerance even thou the majority of the white racing community did not embrace him.
African Americans would like to see another Black driver like the Hall of Famer Wendell Scott. This will take money, time, coaching, and courage for another young African American to follow Scott’s footsteps.
In 1991 this humble African American race car driver was nominated and initiated into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
Rent the movie “Greased Lighting,” starting Richard Pryor as Wendell Scott it is exciting, funny, and educational.
His grandsons continue the legacy with the Wendell Scott Foundation. There are two HBCU schools that teach the art of auto racing one being North Carolina A& T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Legacy continues
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove on Blogtalkradio.com Disabled Community Activist. Email at email@example.com
©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray