The Pioneering Career of Wendell Scott
by Tom Jensen August 28, 2020
Wendell Scott’s toughness and tenacity earned him a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Bold pioneer. Fearless driver. Skilled mechanic. Devoted family man. World War II veteran. Danville, Virginia, native Wendell Scott was all of those things and much more, which is why he is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
August 29th marks what would have been Scott’s 99thbirthday. Although Scott passed away in late 1990 at the age of 69, his legacy continues to be felt in NASCAR today, as he was the first Black driver to race full time in the NASCAR premier series and the first to win a race.
Scott served in World War II for three years as a motor pool mechanic, a trade he pursued once he got back home and opened his own auto repair shop. He augmented his income by working as a taxi driver and by hauling moonshine in his native Virginia.
After a local promoter sought to recruit black drivers, Scott broke the stock car color barrier at the Danville Fairgrounds dirt track on May 23, 1952, when he competed in his old Ford. A third-place finish and a $50 payout were enough to convince Scott he wanted to go racing.
“Once I found out what it was like, racing was all I wanted to do as long as I could make a decent living out of it,” Scott would later say. “.… I'm no different from most other people who're doing what they like to do.”
But the obstacles were formidable for a Black racer in the segregated South in the 1950s and 60s. For much of his career, Scott and his family were denied access to hotels, restaurants and other essential services because he was Black.
I'm no different from most other people who're doing what they like to do.
— Wendell Scott
Also, money was in short supply for Scott, his wife and their seven children. So he spent most of his career in used race cars that he bought from other drivers and teams and repaired himself, with the help of his kids. Scott’s mechanical acumen, relentless determination and ability to stretch a dollar allowed him to compete successfully with used cars and parts against teams with far more money and resources.
Despite the many challenges, Scott pressed on, winning hundreds of short-track races throughout the region and capturing the Virginia NASCAR Sportsman championship in 1960.
Scott made his premier series debut on March 4, 1961, at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he finished 17th in an 18-car field, earning $50.
What makes his success even more impressive is the fact that Scott ran on a shoestring budget using used cars and his family as crew. Scott received occasional assistance from other competitors such as fellow Hall of Famers Richard Petty (2010) and Ned Jarrett (2011).
In 1966, Scott finished a career-best sixth in points, beginning a string of four consecutive top-10 points finishes. During that 1966 season, Scott finished higher in the NASCAR year-end standings than seven other drivers who were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame.
With those accomplishments and the trail he blazed, it’s little wonder that Scott was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.