NASCAR keeps a pretty meticulous record book.
Everyone knows the big numbers on that list: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships, Petty’s 200 wins and Jimmie Johnson’s five consecutive titles.
Back in the 1960s, the seasons were seemingly endless. For example, the 1964 season actually started in late 1963. The last race of the ’63 season was at Riverside on November 3, and the first race of the ’64 season was a week later at Concord on November 10.
If you dig deep and go back to the beginning of the ‘64 season, there’s a name at the top of the finishing order for a race in Jacksonville on December 1, 1963.
It’s the only time you’ll see it at the top of the results. His name was Wendell Scott.
There’s not anything special marking him at the top of the results for that race. There’s not an asterisk, no special bubble that pops up when you roll your mouse over his name and no special color on that list to mark his achievement.
Ironically, on that day at the end of 1963, color was what made that win important.
Wendell Scott was the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR race.
For a sport, like all others, that was finding its way through color barriers, his win was an important historical marker.
In a sport that had much of its roots in the South, his achievement was even more courageous.
In some ways, Scott was like most of the drivers of his day, as he drove a car for a living. That living started off as a taxi driver in Virginia, and he also found income on the backroads of the South hauling moonshine.
Rum running, as it was called, probably got him his break through an unlikely source.
The Danville, VA police told a local track promoter that he should put Scott in a field because when it came to hauling liquor, Scott was as hard as they came to catch.
That started his career back in 1947, and by the time he made it to NASCAR’s premier division he had won 128 races.
In 1959, he won 22 times and won his track championship and the Virginia Sportsman title.
Then came 1963, and Scott’s lone NASCAR win at Speedway Park in Jacksonville. To this day, he’s the only African-American driver to win at NASCAR’s top level.
“They had him recorded as third place,” recalled son Frank for the 2009 NASCAR documentary The Ride of Their Lives.
“He protested the finish of the race and it took them several hours before they came out and said ‘Guess what Wendell? You did win the race.’”
Scott, the patriarch of his family-owned operation with the help of his two sons, Wendell Jr. and Frank, pressed on through the 1960’s.
The entire decade was marked by the growing pains of the civil rights movement.
“The time frame that we were in the South racing all through the early 60s—the demonstrations and the things Martin Luther King was doing for our people—things were going on in Montgomery and Birmingham and we’d be actually racing in those cities,” explained Frank Scott.
Wendell Scott became a fixture in the top 10 in points over the rest of the decade. In 1964 he drove a Holman-Moody Ford that he was able to buy for $1 in a deal arranged by the great Ned Jarrett.
Jarrett wasn’t alone in assisting Wendell Scott.
“Richard Petty also came to us and he handed Daddy 500 dollars and said if there was anybody who can’t afford not to race it’s you,” said Wendell Scott Jr.
He finished sixth in the final standings in 1966, the best finish of his career.
Scott raced in the Cup series until 1973.
He passed away in 1990, and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
In February, ESPN is airing a docudrama about Scott called Wendell Scott: A Race Story.
It comes as part of Black History Month, but Scott is as much about the sport’s history as its future.
On Wednesday night, NASCAR and Revolution Racing announced its eighth Drive for Diversity class.
The program is designed to bring more minorities and females into a sport that has been dominated for the most part by white males.
Max Siegel, the founder of Revolution Racing and an executive producer on the film, talked about the importance of Scott in the sport’s history.
“Wendell Scott’s determination coupled with his bravery is what created that lasting legacy in American motorsports.”
There’s not a doubt that anyone who sits behind the wheel of a stock car has bravery. It’s that special something that lets them do it and makes what they do even more remarkable.
The kind of courage Scott showed back during his career stands tall, even in a sport that requires it to compete.
Scott won’t ever appear on the top of a win list, and you won’t find a picture of him hoisting a Cup championship, but as NASCAR grows, evolves and becomes more diverse, history’s prism may show him as one of the sport’s giants.
Thanks to Living Legends Of Auto Racing for the photos.