Little Known Black History Fact: Wendell Scott

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  • Wendell Scott became the first African-American to obtain a NASCAR racing license in 1953. Now, decades after making history, Wendell Scott is the first black racecar driver on the ballot for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Scott will be on the 2013 ballot and fans can vote for him on NASCAR.com.

    Wendell Scott was the first and only black driver to win a race in what is now the Sprint Cup Series. He made history in 1952 at the Danville Fairgrounds Speedway, where he was the first black to compete in the stock car racing competition. The driver held 147 top-ten finishes during his career, but racial discrimination prevented him from entering the Victory Circle.

    Scott was raised by his father in Danville, Virginia, who worked as a mechanic and a driver for the wealthy whites in the community. He taught Wendell how to drive and drive fast. The main sources of income in Danville were the cotton-gin and tobacco fields, but Scott refused to do those jobs because, he says, they “felt like prison.” Bored with school, Scott dropped out, got married and joined the army to fight overseas in Europe during WWII.

    When he returned, the future driver made a living making and selling moonshine whiskey. He practiced speeding on the road while outrunning the police on his whiskey runs. He often watched the speedway races in the “black-only” bleachers, yearning to be on the track.

    Things changed for Scott when the Dixie Circuit racers, who were part of NASCAR, asked the police for the fastest negro driver to compete against their seasoned white drivers in a gimmick race. They recommended Scott. Scott’s car broke down, but he knew that racing was in his blood. A year later, Scott somehow convinced the NASCAR licenser to grant him a license and by 1963, had won the race on the one-mile dirt track at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. However, a white man, Buck Baker, was declared the winner because no one wanted to see the Negro driver win.

    Despite this, Scott won race after race and was always in the top ten. His top career earnings were in 1969 when he won $47,451.

    Wendell Scott died in 1990. His story was told in the 1977 film “Greased Lightning” starring Richard Pryor.

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