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Wendell Scott

Facing Down Racism

Scott dedicated himself to racing. In 1950 he made his first attempt to enter a NASCAR sponsored race. Because he had light skin, officials didn't recognize that he was black. But when he went to purchase the safety belt they had asked him to buy so he could drive, his race was recognized and he was told he couldn't participate. No reason was given.

During the next few years, Scott raced in what was known as the "Dixie Circuit." These were smaller tracks—less than a mile long—than those used for NASCAR races and were held throughout the South. In 1954, he was accepted into the NASCAR Modified Division. In those years he honed his driving skills and began winning races. He ended up winning around 127 races in these lower divisions. In 1959, he won a total of twenty-two races, including the Virginia State Championship. Scott felt ready to take on the Grand Nationals.

In 1961, Scott debuted in the Grand National, now known as the Winston Cup, at the Spartenburg Fair-grounds in South Carolina. In the beginning of his Grand National career he faced racism from officials, drivers, and crowds. Drivers in races would try to force him off the track. Inspectors would demand erroneous repairs, like fixing chipped paint, before letting him race. He was once disqualified from a race because his crew was racially mixed. Sometimes he was only allowed to have his wife in the pit to help him during a race. Crowds would often jeer at him.

Scott persisted. He finished in the top ten five times in 1961, earning $3,240. He never felt like he was there to make a statement. His only desire was to race cars. He eventually won over the trust of many other drivers who were in the same situation he was, an independent driver with limited finances working hard to stay in a sport he loved. He and his wife were always willing to help as best they could any drivers who were in distress.

Scott placed consistently throughout the '60s. In 1962, he had eleven top ten finishes and earned $7,000. By 1965 he was rated eleventh in the nation and that year won $20,000 in prize money. In 1964 he set a Grand National record for a 40th place starter. At the World 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Scott was able to go from his 40th place start and finish ninth. No other driver had ever done that. That same year, on July 20, Scott earned his only pole position start at the Grand National track in Savannah, Georgia.


1921 Born August 29 in Danville, Virginia
1942-45 Serves in World War II in Army's 101st Airborne
1943 Marries
1947 Races for first time, Danville Fairgrounds; begins racing in the Dixie Circuit
1950 Opens car repair shop; makes first attempt to race in the NASCAR circuit
1954 Begins racing in the NASCAR Modified Division
1961 Debuts in NASCAR's Grand National at Spartenburg Fairgrounds in South Carolina
1973 Suffers major injuries in a pileup at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama; retires from racing
1977 Greased Lightning, a film based on his life starring Richard Pryor released
1990 Dies December 23 from complications due to spinal cancer

Awards and Accomplishments

1947 Placed 3rd and won $50 in first ever race at Danville Fairgrounds
1959 Won Virginia State Championship as well as twenty-two other races in the Dixie Circuit
1961 Finished in the top ten 5 times, earning $3,240
1962 Finished in the top ten 11 times, earning $7,000
1963 Only Grand National win, Jacksonville Speedway Park, Jacksonville, Florida, on December 1
1964 Only pole position start at Grand National race in Savannah, Georgia, on July 20
1964 Set Grand National record for 40th place starter at World 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he finished 9th
1965 Ranked 11th in the nation, earning $20,000
1977 Inducted into Black Athletes Hall of Fame
1994 Inducted into Jacksonville, Florida Hall of Fame
1996 Inducted into Danville Register & Bee Hall of Fame
1997 Inducted into National Sports Hall of Fame
1999 Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame
2000 Inducted into Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame
2002 Inducted into Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History Hall of Fame

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsAuto RacingWendell Scott Biography - Learning How To Drive A Car, Facing Down Racism, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, One And Only Grand National Win