NASCAR has had many legendary drivers come through their league, making their impact on the sport for years to come. However, there is one legendary driver that doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Wendell Scott was the first and only full-time Black driver to race at the highest level of NASCAR during his career from 1961-1973.
Scott’s career as a NASCAR driver was not an easy one. He faced countless obstacles like hate speech, death, threats, racism, and even violence. However, Scott never let those things deter him from his love of racing. Scott’s historic win in 1963 was tainted because of the racism and discrimination that permeated the South.
Wendell Scott’s journey to NASCAR
Scott’s career racing at the top level in NASCAR was challenging, but getting to that point was even more difficult. Scott started racing in 1947 in his hometown of Danville, Virginia. He often modified vehicles he bought, turning them into racing machines. There wasn’t much money at Scott’s disposal, which resulted in him using his sons as helping hands.
Beginning at the Dixie Circuit, Scott had success racing in their hobby, amateur and modified races. He was a recipient of the Virginia State Sportsman title in 1959 after winning 22 races that year. Despite his domination at the lower levels, he still couldn’t race in NASCAR sanctioned races. Black people weren’t allowed to enter races and sometimes were barred from the racetrack entirely. Despite the blatant racism, Scott continued to persevere.
“There were just a few Blacks attending races then. Most of the time, me and a friend were the only two Blacks in the stands. He’d often ask me if I’d have the nerve to get out there and run. I’d tell him, ‘shucks, yes,’ I could do it,” said Scott per LegendsofNASCAR.com.
The persistence paid off as Wendell Scott received his NASCAR license. He made the jump to the Grand National division, now called the Sprint Cup Series, in 1961. In his first three seasons as a full-time driver, Scott finished in the top 10 39 times. He had a top-five finish five times. During the 1964 season, Wendell Scott made NASCAR history, but racism ruined what was supposed to be a victorious moment.
Racism ruined a historic victory for Wendell Scott
During the 1964 NASCAR season, Wendell Scott put together his best year as a full-time driver. He won his first and only race, a victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. Despite winning the race, NASCAR said that Scott came in second place.
It was ruled that the actual second-place driver, Buck Baker was the winner of the race. Scott drove 202 laps compared to Baker’s 200 in that race. He went two more extra laps than Baker but still didn’t get the victory. While Baker was getting his moment of glory in victory lane, Scott was angered.
“Everybody in the place knew I had won the race, but the promoters and NASCAR officials didn’t want me out there kissing any beauty queens or accepting any awards,” Scott said years later about the race.
That is what many critics believe was the reason for NASCAR naming Baker the winner. The league didn’t want a Black person to be celebrated by his white counterparts, especially a white beauty queen. According to Scott, he said he wouldn’t have kissed the beauty queen, only shaking her hand. On what was supposed to be a celebratory occasion, Scott was being cheated out of his first win because of racism.
After protesting the results for two hours after the race, NASCAR officially gave Scott his deserved victory at Speedway Park. The league said a scoring error caused the mix-up, but the ceremonies were over at that point. Scott never had his name called in victory lane, nor did he get his moment in the spotlight. According to Scott’s son, they received the purse winnings, but they didn’t even get the actual trophy.
“Buck got the real trophy. The thing we got was junk. They gave us a trophy about a month later at Savannah. But it wasn’t the real thing,” Frank Scott said.
The Legacy of Wendell Scott lives on
The 1964 win at Speedway Park was the climax of Wendell Scott’s career, despite the racism that tainted the celebration. He continued to race, participating in over 40 races from 1962-71. Alongside some of NASCAR’s most legendary drivers like Richard Petty, Joe Weatherly, and Fireball Roberts, Scott held his own.
Scott would race in 495 Grand National events during his legendary career. He finished with 147 top 10 finishes and 20 top-five finishes. To this day, his win during the 1964 season is the only win by a full-time Black driver at NASCAR’s highest level. Over his racing career, he pocketed roughly $180,814 in purse winnings.
Wendell Scott is a racing legend, facing countless negative distractions en route to a phenomenal racing career. His lone win at Speedway Park was one of the best moments in Scott’s life, but racism and prejudice ruined a historic moment in NASCAR history.