This past Wednesday, NASCAR honored Wendell Scott by announcing that he will be inducted into their hall of fame. Scott was the first African American driver to race full time in NASCAR’s top series. He won only one race in his career in 1963 in Jacksonville, a victory that was originally not credited to Scott because the track promoters did not want a black man standing next to a white trophy girl. Scott did finish in the top 20 in 80% of the races he competed in, with 147 top 10 finishes from the years of 1961-1973.
Scott should have been elected to the Hall of Fame a long time ago. He was pioneer in the sport and battled extreme prejudice and received numerous death threats throughout his career. He did it all with hand me down parts from other teams because he was not afforded the big time sponsorship deals that his white counterparts had. To quote Scott’s son Frank is father was “a mechanical engineer without a formal education”. Not having an ownership group like say a Hendrick Motorsports makes all of his accomplishments in the sport even more amazing.
I would love to tell you that Scott’s accomplishments led to the great legacy of black drivers that we have today but unfortunately they did not. The elite level of stock car racing maybe the least integrated sport over the last 40 years in the United States. Professional sports like hockey, golf and tennis have all made major strides in diversity. There is still an environment where lots of minorities do not feel comfortable attending races where the Confederate Flag still waves strongly in the stands.
Today there is not a full time African American driver in the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series. The race car game is about access and still appears to subscribe to the good old boy network. To be fair NASCAR has made some efforts recently to get more potential minority drivers a chance with the A Drive for Diversity campaign that it started 11 years ago. All of this makes Scott’s accomplishments even more amazing. For all of the lack of progress that has been made, Scott faced even greater obstacles during his time. Not being serviced at restaurants while being on the road traveling to races trying to support a family and living with the constant threats against his life. His fearlessness and determination should never be forgotten.
Keith B. Holt
Follow on Twitter @Kholtjr