There have only been two full-time black drivers who have raced in NASCAR‘s top racing division. One is Bubba Wallace; the other is Wendell Scott. Racing during the 1960s and 70s, Scott was among the league’s most talented drivers.
His abilities weren’t always recognized because he was the only African American racer. That didn’t stop him from competing and excelling in the sport. Scott became such a great driver because of an illegal job that had him running from the police.
Wendell Scott loved to race, no matter the league
Many people might not know of Wendell Scott or his history as a NASCAR driver. Scott’s racing career began in 1947 in native Danville, Virginia. He had to work his way up the racing ranks, often being subjected to racism and discrimination. Scott overcame the hatred toward him, becoming an elite driver on the lower racing levels.
Scott put together 128 wins on the old Dixie Circuit, participating in amateur, hobby, and modified car races, per LegendsofNASCAR.com. He continued to race in the lower racing levels because Black people were not allowed to participate in NASCAR races during that time.
In 1959, Scott had arguably had the best racing season of his amateur career. He won 22 races that season, winning the Richmond Track championship. He was also the Virginia State Sportsman title for his outstanding season. His eyes were still on NASCAR, settling for the lower-tier racing leagues for now.
Wendell Scott was an exceptional racer, and his career stats and accolades prove it. Being the great driver he was, he had to have practiced tirelessly to gain those skills. He would sharpen them by avoiding law enforcement while operating his illegal business.
Wendell Scott’s illegal job allowed him a chance to race
Before Wendell Scott made a name for himself in the racing world, he worked like most Americans. Scott had a job as a taxi driver, driving a car he modified himself. When it became nighttime, Scott took on his second job. He would haul moonshine whiskey from his taxi.
Using the cover of night, Scott would often have to avoid police. Delivering moonshine was an illegal practice during his day. Scott would constantly brag about how he could outrun the police. Sometimes he’d hide and watch them pass by him because he was so far ahead. His job as a whiskey hauler allowed Scott to fuel his racing career.
Even though Scott was a talented driver, he did get into trouble. He would speed in his taxi, practicing for the race track. After 13 speeding tickets, he lost his chauffeur license. During one of Scott’s moonshine runs, the police finally caught him. They arrested him, and he was placed on probation. However, his notoriety is what helped sparked his racing career.
In an effort to gain a bigger audience, a race promoter from the Danville Fairgrounds was looking for an African American racer.
“They went to the police, now this is true, and wanted to find out who the fastest black man around was. Scott was running moonshine back then, and the police were able to tell them he was the only one they could never catch,” said Mary Scott, Wendell’s wife.
The promoter offered Scott a chance to race, and he accepted.
Scott’s historic career left an impact on NASCAR
He dominated lower-level races, but Scott wanted to race in NASCAR. He couldn’t get there yet because of the color of his skin. However, in 1961, Scott finally got his big break. He moved up to the top level in NASCAR, called the Grand National division.
The Grand National series held races in the south, which brought outside distractions for Scott. Throughout his career in NASCAR, he’d face racism, discrimination, and violence. Opposing drivers would sometimes intentionally hit Scott during races because of his skin color. Through all the adversity, Scott continued to show his exceptional racing skills.
Scott raced at NASCAR’s highest level for 13 seasons. He participated in 495 events, finishing in the top 10 in 147 of them. He was able to crack the top five 20 times. Scott has one win for his career, which is the only win by a full-time black driver at the top level to this day.
Wendell Scott made a name for himself when there literally wasn’t a way for him to get into NASCAR. His career outracing cops is what got him the attention for him to start his professional driving career. Because of his illegal business, Scott became a legend and will have his legacy live on forever.
Stats courtesy of LegendsofNASCAR.com