Author: Albert Pearce

is the senior motorsports correspondent for Auto Week.

Wendell Oliver Scott Sr. (1921–1990)

Wendell Oliver Scott Sr. was the first Black driver to race regularly in NASCAR’s top-level Grand National (later the Cup) Series, the first Black man to be a NASCAR team owner, and the first Black man to win a Grand National race. Scott was born on August 29, 1921, in Danville to William Ira Scott and Martha Ella Motley Scott. He served in the Army as a mechanic with the Red Ball Express during World War II (1939–1945) and married Mary Belle Coles on July 10, 1944. After the war, he worked for a time as a taxi driver before turning his skills as a mechanic and driver to moonshine running. He drove in his first race on May 23, 1952, at Danville Fairgrounds Speedway after promoters sought out a local Black hot-rodder to attract Black spectators to the track. On March 4, 1961, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Scott became only the second Black man to compete in the history of Grand National racing. He overcame financial and cultural obstacles to become successful in stock car racing, generally considered the exclusive domain of white southern men. Over the course of thirteen years, Scott competed in 495 top-level NASCAR races and posted 1 win, 20 top-five finishes, and 147 top-10 finishes. His sole victory came on December 1, 1963, in the Jacksonville 200 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. However, race officials initially refused to recognize Scott’s win due to fear of creating controversy by having a young white woman deliver the trophy and the traditional photo-op kiss to the winner. Scott earned more than $180,000 over the course of his career. It is unlikely that any athlete in any discipline did so much with so little as Scott, who was never able to attract a corporate sponsor. Scott was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Sports Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Scott died of spinal cancer on December 23, 1990, at the age of sixty-nine and was buried in Danville’s Cunningham Cemetery.