NASCAR Finally Gets It Right by Inducting Wendell Scott into the Hall of Fame

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NASCAR Finally Gets It Right by Inducting Wendell Scott into the Hall of Fame
Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Members of Wendell Scott's family celebrate the driver's inclusion in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

This may come as a bit of a shock to, well, no one outside of NASCAR.

But NASCAR, meaning the entity that is the governing body of the sport, does not always get it right.

This time, when NASCAR included Wendell Scott in its latest Hall of Fame class that will be inducted in January of 2015, it definitely got it right and made amends for one of the great wrongs of the past.

It may have been years, even decades, behind in doing so, but at least it was a huge step in the right direction for a sport that hasn't always done a good job of shedding negative stereotypes.

It certainly didn't get it right on December 1, 1963, when Scotta black man attempting against enormous odds to drive competitively in a white man's worldwon a NASCAR-sanctioned race of the highest order on a half-mile dirt track at Jacksonville Speedway Park.

Scott not only won, but beat runner-up Buck Baker to the checkered flag by two laps.

As mentioned in my book titled The Wildest Ride, when a race official told the beauty queenwho was white, of coursethat she would have to kiss a black man in Victory Lane, she literally ran from the premises.

Race officials feared a riot from the rowdy crowd if they awarded Scott the victory, so they called Scott over and told him they were giving the win to Baker, even though they knew Baker hadn't even come close to actually earning the victory.

It is not an overstatement to note that this likely was the most deplorable moment in stock-car racing history's most shameful chapter.

One month later, NASCAR covered its tracks by declaring Scott the official victor of the race after what it called "a scoring check." In a behind-the-scenes, makeshift ceremony held so as not to attract too much attention, officials handed Scott a small trophy made of stained wood that was thickly varnished.

Baker held on to the real trophy.

In form that was true to everything Scott was about, he proudly displayed the trophy on a shelf at his home and kept on driving.

He was his sport's Jackie Robinson with one major exception: Even as times changed in the real world and Robinsonwho broke baseball's color barrier in 1947became a hero who helped change the way people think, Scott's tale went mostly untold and ignored.

This was a man who went to heroic proportions just to get to a track and run a race. He was as competitive as the next driver and wanted to win, and had done so over 200 times on short dirt tracks near his home in Danville, Virginia.

That was a testament to his abilities before he sought the new and larger challenges that NASCAR had to offer in what was then known as the Grand National Series and today is the Sprint Cup.

Emboldened by his success at the local level, Scott wanted more. He sought to race against the best.

But he was black, and only a handful of drivers he competed against at the time accepted him for what he wasa man, like them, with a burning passion for driving race cars who possessed the physical skill and mental prowess to do it well at unusually high speeds.

Others held his skin color against him, forcing him to travel to race tracks mostly at night, when he figured it would be easier to avoid the usual harassment he received upon arriving at a venue.

When hungry, he couldn't walk to the concession stand like other drivers and order a hot dog or a bag of chips. Black men weren't served at concession stands in those days, especially in the deep South where most of the races were then being held.

So Scott would head to a grocery store to buy food that he would bring into the track, only to be told he couldn't use the front entrance of the store like white folks.

He had to go to the back door, where he would tell the occasionally compassionate clerk what he wanted and hopefully it would be brought out to him.

Whereas other drivers felt comfortable leaving their race cars unattended at times, Scott never enjoyed that luxury. He and family members or friends who traveled with him had to stand constant guard over his car to prevent seemingly endless efforts to sabotage his vehicle.

Throughout what would be a 13-year career and 495 starts at the highest level of competition his sport had to offer, Scott battled financial problems. Only very occasionally, a minor sponsor would come forward with a little money.

Opposing drivers were forever conspiring to put him and his inferior equipment into the wall on race day.

They wanted him to quit and never come back.

Scott refused to be intimidated. He kept quiet and kept racing with a dignity and inner strength that eluded his tormenters. Week after week, Scott showed up with his own car, having worked on it himself with patchwork parts, and tried to race with the big boys.

Scott usually maintained his silence when confronted by adversaries.

One time, however, he decided to do something about a longtime critic who had repeatedly attempted to run him off tracks and frequently shouted obscenities at him and challenged him to fight.

As the two drivers passed through one of the flat turns circling the football field at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Scott's antagonist rammed into his No. 34 Chevrolet in a blatant attempt to knock him off the track and out of the race.

After regaining control of his car, Scott pulled alongside the other driver and stared him down through the driver's-side window. Then Scott slowly lifted a handgun to the window, pointing it at the other driver.

The other driver never messed with Scott to that degree on the track again.

Scott's true legacy lies in the fact that he displayed the resolve to show up to race again and again and again, week after week after week, month after month after month, for years.

Yet when this reporter wrote a story as recently as early 2007 questioning why NASCAR's Jackie Robinson had not been properly honored, one NASCAR officialsince departed from the organizationdismissed the premise of the article as misguided and chided that Scott's driving record "was something of a joke."

Obviously, he missed the point of Scott's groundbreaking, courageous legacywhich had nothing to do with race wins or top-10 finishes and everything to do with fighting through adversity and injustice on a daily basis just to do what he loved for a living.

Well, for many of those drivers and others in the sport who failed to give Scott his just due for way too long, the joke is now on them. Wendell Scott is headed to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Well done for him and, finally, well done for NASCAR.

 

All information for this article was obtained firsthand by Joe Menzer, author of The Wildest Ride who now writes about NASCAR and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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