This week, the Commonwealth of Virginia honored black race car driver Wendell Scott with his own highway marker in Danville. In 1953, Wendell Scott became the first African American to obtain a NASCAR racing license. In 2012, Scott was also the first black race car driver on the nomination ballot for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Although he won the votes of fans on NASCAR.com, Scott was not inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Wendell Scott made history in 1952 at the Danville Fairgrounds Speedway, where he was the first black to compete in the stock car racing competition.
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 Wendell 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 the beginning of 1963, he had won the race on the one-mile dirt track at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida.
Then on December 1, 1963, Scott made history after being the first black to win at the NASCAR Cup Series (Now the Spring Cup Series). However, officials miscounted two of Scott’s laps and credited white driver, Buck Baker, as the winner. 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. The driver held 147 top-ten finishes during his career, but racial discrimination prevented him from entering the Victory Circle.
Scott’s win at the NASCAR Cup Series was not credited with a replica trophy until 2010.
Wendell Scott died in 1990. His story was told in the 1977 film “Greased Lightning” starring Richard Pryor.