The first time Wendell Scott Jr. saw Darrell Wallace Jr. drive a race car at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina, Wallace was only 15 years old.
Yet the elder Junior, then a talent scout for NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, never forgot it.
On that day, Scott Jr. quickly came to believe that someday there would be another occasion when Wallace Jr. would make certain everyone in NASCAR knew his name.
That occurred when Wallace won the Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway last Saturday, becoming the first black driver to win a race in one of NASCAR's top three national touring series since the late Wendell Scott, the father of Scott Jr., did so on Dec. 1, 1963, in what was then the equivalent of today's Sprint Cup Series.
So if folks didn't already know Wallace's name in NASCAR, they do now.
The question is if he'll be able to use the Martinsville win as a springboard to transcend the sport and make himself a household name even outside the sport's usual orbit.
Wendell Scott Jr., for one, believes that Wallace can accomplish the latter.
"Long story short, this guy's story is going to get longer," Scott Jr. said of Wallace in a follow-up news conference at Martinsville that also included his brother, Franklin Scott, one day after Wallace visited Victory Lane.
Franklin Scott added of Wallace's win: "When the checkered flag dropped, I heard a big boom from heaven, and my daddy said, 'Hell, yeah!'"
Onlookers were so impressed by his daddy's victory in '63 in Jacksonville, Fla., that race officials, fearing a riot, initially awarded the trophy to second-place driver Buck Baker, who was actually two laps behind Scott at the finish.
It remains a stain on the history of the sport.
This time, at least NASCAR celebrated the Wallace victory for the momentous occasion it truly was—even though more of the sport's seemingly unending stream of controversy threatened to overshadow it when driver Kevin Harvick infuriated car owner Richard Childress by referring to Childress' driving grandsons as "punk-ass kids" afterward, per SportingNews.com.
The kid who really belonged in the spotlight at Martinsville on the day of the truck race was Wallace, who only recently turned 20 years old and is no "punk ass."
And while the win was great for him and for the sport, now everyone is left wondering what's next.
Wallace could become NASCAR's version of Tiger Woods if he gets the right opportunities. But let's not rush there just yet.
Unlike in golf, where dedication and endless practice under the right instruction can produce results as long as those traits are mixed with a considerable amount of physical talent and mental toughness, it takes more than that to become a success in NASCAR.
For one thing, it takes money from outside sources and lots of it. It also takes luck on the track and luck in terms of being in the right places at the right times to gain the best opportunities.
When icons of the sport, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., are slow to sell out a season's worth of sponsorship on their race cars, Wallace remains a long way from having the kind of financial backing and assurance of the long-term support it will take to become a star in NASCAR's top national touring circuit. After all, he's only now competing in his first full-time season in the Truck Series—NASCAR’s equivalent of Double-A minor-league baseball.
Currently, Wallace is a Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver on loan to Kyle Busch Motorsports for this Truck Series season. Despite the historic win at Martinsville, he's had an up-and-down season with 10 top-10 finishes but also five finishes of 20th or worse in 18 races.
And that's in pretty good equipment.
But in a sport whose Southern roots have sometimes worked against it, Wallace is on the cusp of possibly becoming something big. Really big.
Some old-time fans won't like it, no doubt.
But Wallace is personable and well-spoken as well as talented. Given time and the right set of circumstances, he could use the win at Martinsville as a springboard to a future full of virtually unlimited possibilities. He could bring a whole new segment of fans—and sponsors—into the sport.
And let’s be honest: NASCAR could use healthy shots of both.
Rightly so, though, Wallace is not really thinking in such grandiose terms at the moment—and the rest of the racing world should keep its hold on reality as well.
Wallace isn't even certain yet if he'll have a full-time ride in the Truck Series again next season, as the funding isn't in place. And he's registered only four career starts in the Nationwide Series, the next step up the NASCAR ladder.
Wallace said at the Martinsville news conference that he tries not to think about his place in history or where his legacy within the sport ultimately will rest. He's thinking instead about his next race and said he doesn't need any added pressure.
"I've still got to go out there and perform, and I've got to think about what I've got to do on track to get back to Victory Lane," Wallace said. "The number one thing a racer should do is have fun. I just need to get back to that, then let everything else settle into place."
Wallace certainly had fun in Victory Lane at Martinsville.
Nearly 50 years earlier, the late Wendell Scott, who passed away in 1990 after battling spinal cancer, wasn't even permitted to celebrate his historic 1963 win in Victory Lane and wasn't even given a replica of the trophy he earned until one month later after a "scoring check" quietly declared him the rightful winner.
So at the very least, even though it was way too long in coming, the Wallace win represented progress down the right road for NASCAR.
It remains to be seen whether it will stall out or gain momentum in the long run and whether the prediction of Wendell Scott Jr. for Wallace's large role in it all will come to pass.
All quotes for this article were obtained first-hand by the writer.
Background on the late Wendell Scott pulled from the book, The Wildest Ride.
Follow Joe Menzer on Twitter @OneMenz
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