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Start Your Engines for Wendell Oliver Scott

You don’t have to be a fan of NASCAR to appreciate our new entry on the legendary Danville-born driver Wendell Oliver Scott. Scott was already locally famous as a taxi driver-turned-moonshine runner when he drove a souped-up Ford in his first race at Danville Fairgrounds Speedway in 1952. Despite financial obstacles and continued instances of racism, Scott shattered barriers in stock car racing, generally considered the exclusive domain of white southern men. Scott became 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. 

His record speaks for itself. 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. The entry dives into the details of Scott’s sole victory in a Grand National race, in the Jacksonville 200 in 1963, which was marred by racial politics, and the belated amends made to his family by NASCAR in 2021.

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. The 1977 movie Greased Lightening was loosely based on his life and career. Despite his successes, he never attracted a corporate sponsor that would allow him to take his racing career to the next level. As Al Pearce, the senior motorsports correspondent for Auto Week, writes in the entry, “It is unlikely that any athlete in any discipline did so much with so little as Scott.”

Scott accomplished this not only on a shoe-string budget but while enduring countless moments of racial prejudice—from promoters who refused to pay him the expense money they typically gave to drivers who didn’t place high enough to win any money, to racial slurs, to numerous incidents of drivers trying to bump him off the track.

The entry dives into the details of Scott’s sole victory in the Jacksonville 200 in 1963, which was marred by racial politics, and the belated amends that were made to his family by NASCAR in 2021.

The site of Scott’s first race, the Danville Speedway, is highlighted on the new Virginia Motorsport Heritage Trail, which connects travelers to the rich and vibrant racing history throughout Virginia. So start your engines and read about Danville’s own Wendell Oliver Scott and his remarkable life and career.

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