Wendell Scott was a pioneering figure for NASCAR as the first Black driver to earn a NASCAR license. Scott’s accomplishments on the racetrack will finally be recognized after he was announced as the first Black NASCAR Hall Of Fame inductee for its 2015 class.
Scott was born August 19, 1921 in Danville, Va. He grew up admiring his father, a driver and mechanic. Scott’s father worked on cars for rich White families in segregated Virginia. After dropping out of high school and becoming a taxi driver, Scott married before entering the Army during World War II.
After the war, Scott owned an auto repair shop. While watching stock car races in his hometown from segregated bleachers, he continued to dream of racing. Scott, like other NASCAR pioneers, had a sideline running moonshine whisky and caught the eye of a white racing organization. They wanted to recruit a Black driver as a gimmick to race against the “good ol’ boys” who populated the circuit.
Scott didn’t win his first race because his vehicle broke down. He repaired it and attempted to enter another NASCAR race, but was refused because he was Black. Scott returned to the lesser racing circuits and began churning out wins, while enduring hostile slurs and white drivers intentionally trying to wreck his vehicle.
But because he had the respect of some White drivers, Scott was able to get a NASCAR license. In his time on the NASCAR circuit, he was seen as a capable driver even as he approached his 40s. Scott made his first start in the NASCAR premiere series, now called the Sprint Cup, on March 4, 1961 in Spartansburg, S.C.
On Dec. 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., Scott would become the first Black driver to win the premier series event. For 13 years after his win, Scott made 495 starts, which is 32nd all time, and scored 20 top-five finishes. This was all done despite Scott not having a big name sponsor behind him to bolster his small budget operation.
Scott was forced to retire in 1973 after injuries in an accident proved to be too much for him to handle. Scott succumbed to spinal cancer in 1990.