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Wendell O. Scott was he first African-American driver in NASCAR. He was also the first African-American to win a race in the NASCR Grand National Series, which later became the Winston Cup Series and now is called the Sprint Cup Series.
Wendell Scott was born in and lived his whole life in Danville, Virginia and his first driving job was that of a taxi driver. During World War II, Wendell Scott joined the segregated army in Europe. Scott was taught auto mechanics from a young age as his father was a driver and a mechanic for two well to do white families. After the Army, Scott went back home to Danville and started an auto repair business. As a side job, Scott began to run moonshine and was only ever caught once by the police and received three years’ probation, but that didn’t stop him from doing his late night runs with moonshine.
On the weekends, Wendell Scott would go to the local race track and sit in the “blacks-only” section and wished he could be on the track racing. Finally, he got his chance, after being repeatedly turned away by NASCAR officials. He began racing on the amateur circuit and won his first race after just twelve days into the circuit. He would also start driving in as many as five races a week. Of course, it wasn’t easy for him. Some fans would boo him and other drivers would intentionally hit him to try and ruin his car during races. However, Wendell Scott never retaliated or complained and this attitude began to earn him the respect of other drivers as well as his skills as a driver and a mechanic.
When Wendell Scott finally made it into NASCAR, it wasn’t until December 1, 1963, that Scott would his first race in the Grand National Series. He overtook Richard Petty with 25 laps to go and when he crossed the finish line, the checker flag never dropped until Buck Baker, the second place finisher, had crossed the finish line and Baker was declared the winner. NASCAR officials gave some excuse for Wendell Scott not winning the race, but was widely thought it was racism that kept him from being declared the winner. The winning driver would kiss a beauty queen in the winner’s circle and they certainly could not have an African-American kissing a white beauty queen.
Two hours after the race, the officials realized that Scott had not only won the race but was two laps ahead of the rest of the field of drivers. It wasn’t until two years later that NASCAR officially declared Wendell Scott the winner of that race but did not receive the trophy until 2010. Twenty years after Scott died, his family finally received the trophy. Scott died in 1990 due to spinal cancer and left an incredible racing legacy behind him.
Wendell Scott had a 13-year career that included 20 top five and 147 top ten finishes in 495 starts for NASCAR and in 2015, Wendell Scott was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
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