Wendell Oliver Scott was the first Black American full-time competitor in NASCAR history. During the time period of the Civil Rights Movement, Wendell Scott loved nothing more than to grab the steering wheel and go as fast as he could on the race track. Today, we’re remembering the hall-of-famer on what would have been his 99th birthday.
According to ESPN’s film on the driver, The Dixie Circuit was financially struggling and couldn’t fill its seats at the track, and as a promotional design, they began looking for a Black person to compete in their races. Due to Wendell’s history of speeding tickets, he was asked to participate in the events where he dazzled the crowd with his stunning maneuvers on the track.
According to NASCAR Hall of Fame, while other participants in the race were sponsored with new parts. Wendell Scott used his engineering background from World War II along with the assistance of his two sons to stay at the top of his game by using hand-me-down parts and junkyard parts to enhance and improve the performance of his vehicles.
ESPN’s documentary tells the story of the most infamous moment of Wendell Scott’s life: During the 1963 Jacksonville Speedway Park race in which Wendell won, the checkered flag was never dropped for him. Instead, the flag was dropped for another driver pronouncing him the winner of the race. The event that took place was racially motivated due to Jacksonville Speedway Park’s race owners not wanting to see a Black man kissing a white woman; an old tradition where the winner of the race would kiss the beauty queen. Later, Scott received the payment for his first-place prize money but was denied the enjoyment and trophy from that event.
According to NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Wendell Scott Foundation, in Wendell Scott’s 13-year NASCAR career he finished in the top 10 in 147 races. He was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, Jacksonville, Florida Hall of Fame, Danville Register & Bee Hall of Fame, National Sports Hall of Fame, International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History Hall of Fame, and in 2015 Wendell Oliver Scott was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His self-built 1962 Chevrolet is currently on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina.
Wendell Scott passed away in December 1990, but his legendary career on the track is still remembered today. In the ESPN documentary Wendell Scott: A Race Story his son Frank Scott said he believed his father’s mission was to help open the door for others like him to step through.