Where African American History Is American History
Feb. 28, 2022

Wendell Scott: An American Racing Legend

Wendell Scott: An American Racing Legend

How does one compete in NASCAR while facing discrimination?  In this episode of the Black Is America podcast, we chronicle the life of NASCAR legend Wendell Scott. The Danville, Virginia native goes from the bootlegging on the back roads of the...

How does one compete in NASCAR while facing discrimination? 

In this episode of the Black Is America podcast, we chronicle the life of NASCAR legend Wendell Scott. The Danville, Virginia native goes from the bootlegging on the back roads of the Commonwealth to extraordinary heights of stock car racing. Even though Scott would never have a significant sponsor, he would still compete against the best in NASCAR. 

In this episode, you will hear:

  • A brief history of Danville, Virginia
  • Why the story of Wendell Scott mirrors the story of NASCAR
  • Two pivotal moments in Wendell's Scott Career
  • Why Wendell Scott served as his mechanic
  • About Wendell Scott's success as a driver and owner

Notable figures mentioned in this episode:

Marshall Major Taylor

The Texas Western Starting 5

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. 

Willy T. Ribbs

Bill Lester

Michael Jordan

John Cohen

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Brad Daughter

Sir Lewis Hamilton 


Dominic Lawson (00:02):

It's August 7th, 1966, in Hampton, Georgia, 20 miles south of Atlanta. It's a mostly cloudy day for the Dixie 400 at the Atlanta International Raceway that is currently in progress. It is quite the scene here. The massive crowd is on edge, the pit crews are working hard, and, of course, there is the sound of heavily modified automobiles going speeds of 180 to 185 miles per hour.

Dominic Lawson (00:30):

The famous track has brought out the usual cast of legends of the era, Bobby Allison, the father-son duo of Buck and Buddy Baker, and, of course, often regarded as the goat were Richard Petty. But there is another driver on the track that many are also keeping their eye on. He is the driver behind the wheel of the number 34 car. Wendell Scott, a proud son of Danville, Virginia, is racing today and he's running quite well.

Dominic Lawson (00:57):

Scott has overcome many obstacles to get to this point in his career. Countless instances of racism have led to the lack of major sponsorship and resources, even leading him to receiving death threats. However, the taxi driver turned bootlegger turned stock car racer never let any of that deter him and he is now racing on hollow ground and in contention for the win. You may be wondering why anyone would endure so much to participate in a hazardous sport like auto racing. But if you were to ask Wendell Scott, he would share with you a code. He has always lived by: when it's too tough for everybody else, it's just right for me.

Dominic Lawson (01:43):

We come from innovators, heroes, and royalty. We are our ancestors' greatest hope. We face many challenges, but we mold that adversity into our greatest strength. We are the glue that holds a nation together and allows it to flourish. Welcome to Black as America, the podcast that highlights little-known African American figures and stories that make our history come to life. I'm your host, Dominic Lawson. Episode four: Wendell Scott, an American racing legend.

Dominic Lawson (02:29):

I first heard of Wendell Scott about two or three years ago. Story Corps did this beautiful piece on him and I was amazed, but that wasn't the first time that dawned on me that there were not many black people in the sport. Growing up, you didn't hear much about NASCAR if you were black, but being a sports nut, I was very aware of the stars of the day: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin come to mind, but it was 2013 when the ESPN ad came on promoting Jimmy Johnson and the Spring Cup series that made me realize that black America was not deeply embedded in the sport.

Speaker 2 (03:09):
But is it enough to make you a legend? Because there's a big difference between being the best driver of

your generation and being the best driver ever.

Dominic Lawson (03:23):

During this era of stock car racing, Johnson sits at the top of the sport and vies for his sixth championship. The voiceover actor suggests that he is not racing against the current day competitors, but he is running against the legends of the past. As this voiceover actor is talking, Johnson is walking by Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty, all hall-of-famers. It's a compelling ad; in my opinion, one of the best sports ads I've ever seen. But at the same time, I was like, "This really is just a sport for white dudes. You mean to tell me there aren't any brothers from back in the day that had a need for speed?"

Dominic Lawson (04:06):

This leads us to Wendell Oliver Scott born in Danville, Virginia, on August 29th, 1921. Danville, which sits at the Southern border of the Commonwealth of Virginia has a fascinating history. But two entries stand out. For one is that Danville, in the waning days of the civil war, was the capital of the Confederacy after Richmond failed. You know the war, when those secessionists decided they wanted to break away and create their own way of life and found themselves getting molly whopped by American forces. Just so you know, here on the Black as America podcast, we don't take too kindly to enemy combatants of the United States, either foreign or domestic.

Dominic Lawson (04:54):

The other was a race riot that occurred in 1883 that led to the deaths of four African Americans. In Wendell's youth, there were a significant amount of factories around town that processed cotton and tobacco crop that speaks to the history of enslaved African Americans of the south. So as you can see, Danville is a nice microcosm of the United States, as it relates to the history of the African American experience.

Dominic Lawson (05:25):

Growing up in Danville, he spent a lot of his time with his dad in the garage, an auto mechanic and driver himself, but when he wasn't doing that, you could often find him in the streets of Danville racing his bike against other children. Yeah, I guess uncle Wendell had that need for speed early on as a kid, almost like he was channeling the energy of my guy, Marshall Major Taylor. Now, Uncle Wendell knew early on that ... I'm sorry. What's that? You've never heard of Marshall Major Taylor? You know what? My apologies. Let me put you on game real quick.

Dominic Lawson (06:03):

Let's go back to here; this ought to do it. December 7th, 1896 in Madison Square Garden, or simply known today as The Garden. It is here where the sixth-day race is being held. It's the most significant event in the sport of cycling and predates the Tour de France. This race measures a cyclists' endurance as they would race literally for six days to see how far they could go. Now, you could rest if you wanted to, but there is the obvious risk of people were getting ahead of you if he did that.

Dominic Lawson (06:39):

Anyway, on this day, my guy, Marshall Major Taylor, makes his international debut. Taylor was known more as a sprinter type of cyclist than a long-distance one. So he is making waves for that reason leading up to the event and the fact that he would be the only black person competing on this day. On day one, Marshall Major Taylor is putting in at work. He clocks over 300 miles, which puts him at the top of the leaderboard. However, with fatigue and inexperience starting to set in over the next couple of days, which would make sense after traveling over 17,000 laps, Marshall Major Taylor would finish eighth on the race's final day.

Dominic Lawson (07:25):

But being this was his first distance race, and the fact that the field dwindled to half when it started, Taylor would gain the respect of the cycling world. From there, Marshall Major Taylor would go on to not just break the color barrier in cycling, but dominate it, breaking multiple records and becoming the first African American world champion, not just in cycling, but in any sport.

Dominic Lawson (07:55):

So, like I was saying, Uncle Wendell knew early on that wanted to be his own man. He would see people coming in and out of those plants, I told you about before, and he knew he was not about that life. So Wendell dropped out of school in the 11th grade and became a taxi driver. While he did that, he would meet Mary Coles, which he would soon get married to in 1943 and ultimately have seven kids together. But their honeymoon would be short-lived as Wendell would enlist in the army as a mechanic. There were sources that suggested that he was part of the famed 101st Airborne Division, but I was not able to confirm that.

Dominic Lawson (08:39):

Anyways, after for the war, remembering what he promised himself as a kid, Wendell opened a garage, preparing cars and putting his skill of creating powerful motors to good use. That skill would come in handy for an entirely different reason very soon. That is because Wendell had a growing family and the garage simply did not generate enough money to support them. And so, like any man that wants to take care of his family, Uncle Wendell does what he has to do.

Dominic Lawson (09:12):

Now, the history of stock car race very much mirrors the story of Wendell Scott. Bootlegging in the south was a very lucrative business; illegal, but lucrative. If you're not familiar, bootlegging is the illegal manufacture, distribution, or sale of goods, and the good of choice here in the south was alcohol. A good number of NASCAR stars today, and in the fifties and sixties, are linked to the practice of bootlegging. That is because before these highly modified automobiles were used on the tracks of, say, Talladega and Bristol, they were used to outrun the cops when they were distributing alcohol to their customers. It required a particular skillset and Uncle Wendell had that skillset. And so, Scott would ride up, down, and sideways the back roads of Virginia making deliveries, and, of course, he was good at it. As a matter of fact, there is a particular story that is still legend in Danville to this day.

Wendell Scott Jr (10:17):

His legacy before the racing was the bootleg. When we were born, that was what we understood. He hadn't cut his path in all the racing yet, but he was still a phenom in Danville and surrounding areas.

Dominic Lawson (10:32):

This is Wendell Scott Jr., son of Wendell Scott. He is describing a legendary bootlegging run. This audio is courtesy of the website wendellscott.org of the Wendell Scott Foundation. Here, again, is Wendell Scott Jr.

Wendell Scott Jr (10:47):

At the end of the city limits, it's the road that literally is the snake road, when it goes downhill to a section called Fall Creek, and they had road-blocked him down there. Well, there was no way out. He couldn't run the roadblock. He couldn't turn the car around, so he had to back it out with them chasing.

He left them, got out of that site, instead of doing the normal turnaround, he did a 180 and headed downtown where he had a shop, a place called Spring Street, pulled the motor out of the car, and when the police got daddy, the motor was swinging.

Wendell Scott Jr (11:25):

They said, "Wendell, we know we just chased you. What in the world?" This man, he was real solemn and real quiet. "Man, I'm working on my car. I ain't got time. You know?" So, they took him. We had night court in Danville in those days. The judge said, "Well, if y'all chased him, how was he working on the engine of the car? As I understand the engine was out." They said, "We don't know how he did that, but we know we just chased Wendell." The judge dismissed the case and said, "Well, next time bring me, Wendell, the liquor, and the motor."

Dominic Lawson (11:57):

Yeah. Uncle Wendell was pretty nice behind the wheel, but his innovative engineering skills were nothing to scoff at, either. Franklin Scott, also the son of Wendell Scott, in a conversation with Kyle Petty, son of racing legend, Richard Petty, explains exactly what I mean.

Franklin Scott (12:15):

He was so innovative with his automobiles. Flip the switch and his brake lights wouldn't come on when he was using two [inaudible 00:12:23] tanks on the cars. So he had a big business in Greensburg, Winston, Salem, Charlotte.

Kyle Petty (12:28):
You told me a story this morning; so you're cutting off the brake lights, so when I hit the brakes, the brake lights are not [crosstalk 00:12:34].

Franklin Scott (12:34):
The brake lights out, [crosstalk 00:12:34] but your taillights [crosstalk 00:12:35].

Kyle Petty (12:34):
Your taillights are still on.

Franklin Scott (12:35):
Yeah. That's a separate circuit.

Kyle Petty (12:36):
So you took me down a road that came to a T and he would be on the brakes turning hard, but the lawman behind him [crosstalk 00:12:42] wouldn't know it.

Franklin Scott (12:42):
Wouldn't know it. And if anyone saw the Greased Lightning movie, that was actually a true thing, where they had a meeting that said, "Don't chase him." They had wrecked nine cars trying to catch him.

Kyle Petty (12:50):

Nine out of 13 they wrecked, trying to catch your dad.

Dominic Lawson (13:00):

That is simply impressive. Do you know what is more impressive than that, though? Wendell Scott did not have an engineering degree or some fancy apprenticeship. His father taught him a few things, but he primarily just figured things out for himself. Now, around the south, particularly in the fall, there was always bound to be a fair or a festival of some sort. Growing up here in Memphis, Tennessee, I always loved the Mid-South fair. The school district would give us the day off and we would ride the rides, play games, and taste delicious food. Mm-mm. I could smell it now. Funnel cakes, pronto pups, turkey legs, the works, and if you know anything about the south, we love the deep-fried everything. At the fair, you can find items such as deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried bacon, and even, and I'm not making this up, deep- fried Kool-Aid. Hey, don't knock it till you try it.

Dominic Lawson (14:01):

Anyways, in Uncle Wendell's day, this was also a place where people would get together in fellowship, even the bootleggers I mentioned earlier. They would get together, talk shop about this particular run of evading the cops and more, but as you know, boys will be boys. So there'll be a lot of bragging. They would argue about whose car was faster than whose and whatnot, and often, not far from these fairs, would be a dirt track. How convenient.

Dominic Lawson (14:30):

So you can imagine what would happen next. Right? They would take these cars and see who was telling the truth and who was just blowing smoke. After a while, the races at the dirt track would start to draw crowds. Long story short, southern stock car racing was born, and also a little thing called the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, or simply NASCAR.

Speaker 6 (14:55):
And the 64th Daytona 500 is underway.

Speaker 7 (15:13):
[inaudible 00:15:13] side after you start the 48 lineup behind you still out there.

Speaker 6 (15:14):
Brad Keselowski picks up right where he left off in the 150 Thursday night.

Dominic Lawson (15:18):

Today, NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar league that sanctions over 1500 races across a hundred different tracks in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Europe. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. This would spawn other racing circuits like the Dixie Circuit. I'll give you one guess why I was called that. Now, Uncle Wendell would not be able to run in the nearby Dixie Circuit for obvious reasons, but he would often go to the races as a spectator. But then, one day, a representative from the Dixie Circuit scrolls into the Danville police department. He's there for some information. See, he is looking for a black driver to race as a gimmick to get more people of color to come to the races. Guess whose name comes up?

Wendell Scott (16:11):

Yeah. That's really how I got started in racing.

Dominic Lawson (16:14):
Ladies and gentlemen, in his own words, this is Wendell Scott explaining how he got into stock car racing.

Wendell Scott (16:21):

Well, they opened up a little small track in Danville. Called it the Dixie Speedway. They wanted to get some black drivers and they thought they didn't know who to approach. So they went to the police department to find out what black cat had a speeding record, things like that. So they told them, they want somebody to drive a race car, see me.

Dominic Lawson (16:47):

Wendell initially started in the Dixie circuit merely as a gimmick, but Wendell will soon show that he was not just competitive in races, but he was winning some of them. This is pretty impressive on its own; to come into a new sport and make an immediate impact is not often done in sports. But when you dig deeper into Uncle Wendell's story, it becomes even more impressive. When you look at a stock car race today on TV, true enough, you see high-performing automobiles whizzing around the track. But what you see on those cars is in large part, why they are high performing in the first place.

Dominic Lawson (17:24):

I'm referring to the decals, which represent sponsorship. Today, on the hood of stock cars, you can see Home Depot, McDonald's, FedEx, and more. Simply put, sponsorship equals money that is used to buy high-performing parts. This is also used to pay for pit crews and more so that all the driver had to worry about was driving. But for Scott, he didn't have that. Scott, throughout his entire career, would never have any major sponsorship. The money he needed for parts would come from his winnings. His pit crew was primarily friends and family. Wendell Scott discusses this in a conversation Hall-of-Famer, Ned Jarrett, on the television program Inside NASCAR.

Ned Jarrett (18:15):

He had to do things a little bit differently because you didn't have the financial backing that myself and a lot of other people had that owned the circuit back then. There were stories that you would get out and make your own pit stop, change tires, or service your car when you'd come in.

Wendell Scott (18:27):

Well, some of that was true, but it wasn't to the extent that they build it up to be. Take my old Chevrolet; I had a sign on it, "Mechanic: Me." People used to get a lot of kick out of that. But most of the work I had to do myself and I had that on it. People would ask me, "Who was my pit crew? Who was my mechanic?" I said, "Me," and I were.

Dominic Lawson (18:49):

Can you imagine today a NASCAR driver pulling in from the track to get out, service his own vehicle, and then jump back in and continue the race? You would think it was a joke, almost like a gimmick, but for Uncle Wendell, that was real life. The story of Wendell Scott in NASCAR is the story of the black experience. We do the most with the least, but clearly, he didn't let that deter him.

Dominic Lawson (19:19):

After running and winning a few races, he would [inaudible 00:19:22] his car to other NASCAR events. He was told that he couldn't race because of the color of his skin. Some would provide a compromise of letting a white man run his vehicle, to which Uncle Wendell wasn't having any of that. Anyone who knows auto-racing knows that it's a very dangerous sport on its own. There are more crashes than you can count in the history of stock car racing. For Wendell, it was notably tougher due to the color of his skin.

Dominic Lawson (19:49):

But sports has a funny way of changing people's tunes. It's like when the Texas Western basketball team would make news by starting an all-black starting five against the heavily favorite Kentucky Wildcats for the national title. After that game, Pat Riley, now a hall of fame coach and NBA executive, and a few other white players congratulated those players after they won. Just another example of how sports has often served as the great equalizer. When fans would come to the track to see their favorite drivers, they would also see Wendell Scott and his grit on full display, working on his car during pit stops, not having sponsorships, and even stories like the one Wendell Jr. would tell.

Wendell Scott Jr (20:34):
The first time we raced at Bristol, Tennessee, we slept on the ground outside of the track. My father got up that day and drove 500 miles on a half-mile track.

Dominic Lawson (20:45):

This would garner a lot of respect from people; not all, but most. They respected Wendell's tenacity and never-say-die attitude. It reminds me of what is so special and magical about us as a people: through all the unfairness, the adversity, and the discrimination, we still find way to make an impact and succeed. For Wendell Scott, on a shoestring budget and a can-do attitude, he was surely succeeding.

Speaker 10 (21:17):

Scott won 128 times in the amateur and sportsman modified divisions. His best year came in 1959, when he raced his car, Old Rusty, to 22 wins. That year he won the Virginia State Sportsman and the South Side Speedway Championships.

Dominic Lawson (21:33):
The amateur and modified divisions are a bit like the minor leagues in racing, which is why Scott had his eyes on going to the big time. Here's Wendell Jr.:

Wendell Scott Jr (21:43):

He said, "I'm going to NASCAR." He said, "I'm getting ready to go Grand National," in his [inaudible 00:21:49] and the sportsman and modified level. I thought, "This man's losing his mind. He ain't got no money." Daddy said, "But I can drive."

Dominic Lawson (21:56):

This leads us to a bit of a funny story about how Wendell got his NASCAR license. Here, again, is Franklin Scott, son of Wendell Scott.

Franklin Scott (22:05):

He went to a restaurant in Virginia and it was a NASCAR steward there, and his name was Mike Poston. He told him he wanted to get a NASCAR license. Mike didn't realize he was violating a code, I guess, or something. He signed him up, gave him a NASCAR license.

Dominic Lawson (22:20):

On March 1st, 1961, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Wendell Scott would compete in NASCAR's top series and went grand national, to use the words of Wendell Scott Jr. This makes Wendell like the Jackie Robinson of the sport, but a sport still in its infancy compared to major league baseball. So there was not as much fanfare and why many of us have never heard of Wendell Scott.

Dominic Lawson (22:47):

But, honestly, I think Uncle Wendell preferred it that way. I think he understood the significance of his endeavor of being a trailblazer but, honestly, he just wanted to race and compete. Franklin Scott drives his point home further in a conversation with Kyle Petty, from the television program Coffee with Kyle.

Kyle Petty (23:07):
I read where a guy named Rodney Legion ... I was reading some different stuff ... where he said he was a race car driver. Nobody said, "Come here and represent your race." He came as a race car driver.

Franklin Scott (23:18): A race car driver.

Kyle Petty (23:19):
Yeah. From the time he crawled in and started this and began to make that living, is that how he saw himself?

Franklin Scott (23:25):

Well, First he wanted to be known as a great father, and then as a race car driver. See my father wasn't hung up on pigmentation of his skin because he knew it wasn't authentic, anyway. It was that's just something people use when they want to hold somebody back. He never let a barrier stop him.

Dominic Lawson (23:43):

This brings us to two pivotal moments in the story of Wendell Scott. You heard Franklin say he never let a barrier stop him, which is very true. Wendell Scott had a tenacity to make the argument that he was unmatched in the golden era of NASCAR. But remember, one of the big things that all always held Uncle Wendell back was the lack of major sponsorship, which is crucial to a successful racing outfit. If just one or two of these moments had turned out differently, I believe Uncle Wendell would've had that sponsorship, and I probably would've seen him in that commercial I mentioned at the top of the show.

Dominic Lawson (24:26):

So let's start with pivotal moment number one. In the early days of NASCAR, winning rookie of the year was a big deal. It still is to a certain extent, but not nearly the weight it did back then. But no matter the sport, whether it be an auto racing, basketball, or insert whatever your favorite sport is here, winning rookie of the year is a big deal. It puts you in the position of the next up-and-coming superstar of your sport. Now, during the 1961 season, it's a bit hard to imagine a now 39-year-old Wendell Scott being a rookie, but there he was. Also a rookie in the same '61 season is Woody Wilson, and he is also in contention for the prestigious award.

Dominic Lawson (25:13):

You know what? Let's play a game. If you're watching those sports shows, you're probably familiar with a thing called blind resume. If you're not familiar with it, basically what I'm going to present are the statistics, according to racingreference.info, of the two drivers I mentioned earlier in their 1961 season. But I won't use their names, and you have to guess who won rookie of the year. Pretty simple game, right? Okay. Let's begin.

Dominic Lawson (25:44):

Driver number one raced in 23 of the eligible 52 races, five top 10 finishes, completed over 4,300 laps, and won over $3,200 in cash earnings. Driver number two raced in five of the eligible 52 races, one top 10 finish, completed over 800 laps, and won over $2,600 in cash earnings. All right, let's hear it. Who is NASCAR's 1961 rookie of the year?

Dominic Lawson (26:22):

If you guessed driver number one, that would make sense, but you would be wrong, because driver number one is Wendell Scott, but he did not win. Nope. That honor went to Woody Wilson. You may be wondering how in the whole [crosstalk 00:26:41] did Wendell Scott not win the rookie of the year award? That's because since 1974, the cup series point system determines the award amongst those competing for the honor. But before that, basically, NASCAR officials just got together and just picked a winner. Yep. That's it. That is how I'm Wendell did not become the rookie of the year.

Dominic Lawson (27:06):

Now, I'm going to be a bit gracious and say that maybe, just maybe, those NASCAR officials were not racist. I'm confident some of them were, but there's no way to confirm that. However, what I think probably happened was this: remember, NASCAR is still a pretty young sport at the time and I bet many of those NASCAR officials respected Wendell Scott and probably thought he deserved the rookie of the year honors.

Dominic Lawson (27:37):

However, they probably felt they could not let a black man come behind the great Richard Petty and win this very prestigious award. Remember, this is the early 1960s in a sport dominated by Southern white men. That would hurt a certain narrative and egos. This was also a sport that would use the Confederate flag for official race proceedings at certain tracks. I'm looking at you, Darlington. So I believe to protect the sport, they gave it to Woody Wilson. Just another case of mediocrity being rewarded/ here is Franklin Scott talking about how his dad dealt with not winning the award.

Franklin Scott (28:19):

I think my father, other than not getting his trophy at Jacksonville, [crosstalk 00:28:23] that's one of the things that bothered him more throughout his career throughout his life, did not receive rookie of the year honors. That was a travesty.

Dominic Lawson (30:11):
Kyle Petty gives an interesting perspective on the prestige of the rookie of the year honors.

Kyle Petty (30:12):
When I looked at, that was a piece possibly could have been a game changer because you had Richard

Petty, '59, David Pearson, '60, [crosstalk 00:28:44], and you would've had Wendell Scott '61.

Franklin Scott (30:12): Yeah.

Kyle Petty (30:12):
Rookie of the year was a big deal then. Yeah. It's not as big a deal now.

Franklin Scott (30:12): Right.

Kyle Petty (30:12):
It's kind of changed. You know what I mean? But to be the champion, to be the rookie of the year, to be those things, then-

Franklin Scott (30:12): That really bothered him.

Kyle Petty (30:12): That was a big deal.

Franklin Scott (30:12): It really bothered him.

Dominic Lawson (30:12):

So, Uncle Wendell, while devastated, does what we have always done in the face of adversity in our community. We get up, dust ourselves off, and keep it moving, and, literally, that is what Uncle Wendell does. The 1962 season comes around and Uncle Wendell is running and running hard. He runs in 41 of the possible 53 races and finishes the season with 19 top-10 finishes and four top-five finishes, in '63, 15 top-10 finishes and another top-five finish, and in '64, arguably one of his best seasons, Uncle Wendell, notches 25 top-10 finishes and eight top-five finishes. Uncle Wendell, even notches a win; well, sort of. Let's rewind the tape a bit because Franklin Scott said something earlier that stood out.

Franklin Scott (30:12):

I think my father, other than not getting his trophy at Jacksonville, [crosstalk 00:30:12] that's one of the things that bothered him more, throughout his career, throughout his life, did not receive Rookie of the Year honors.

Dominic Lawson (30:13):

We need to talk about what happened in Jacksonville, which brings us to pivotal moment number two: December 1st, 1963. This might be a bit confusing, but it's still part of the '64 season. Anyways, Uncle Wendell, in the middle of having one of his best seasons on the Grand National Circuit, is racing at the Jacksonville 200 at the old Jacksonville Speedway. The track would later close due to safety reasons. But this highlights something interesting about Wendell Scott, as well. Uncle Wendell was not only a highly skilled driver, but also a true master of his craft, by adjusting his car to the conditions of the track, which were not great this day. Franklin Scott points this out.

Franklin Scott (31:00):

I don't know if you may have heard this, you may not: how he was superior that day. He was a mechanical engineer with no formal education. The track was so bad, he de-shocked the car. Put one shock on each wheel and he said, "I was just riding in a limousine."

Kyle Petty (31:11): Yeah. Yeah.

Franklin Scott (31:12):
He was cruising. He deserves credit for that.

Kyle Petty (31:14): Yeah.

Dominic Lawson (31:15):

And so, Uncle Wendell is out there doing work. Ned Jarrett, the hall-of-famer I mentioned earlier, would get out to a commanding lead, but a damaged wheel puts him behind. Richard Petty would lead most of the laps. But remember, the condition of the track was terrible, so his steering would break. So while the two hall-of-famers were having trouble, Uncle Wendell was on the track like he-

Franklin Scott (31:40): Was riding a limousine.

Kyle Petty (31:40): Yeah.

Franklin Scott (31:41): He was cruising.

Dominic Lawson (31:42):

By the end of the race, Wendell is ahead of the entire field by two laps, two whole laps. As he's coming around the final turn, I bet he thought this was the big break he needed. He probably thought a sponsorship or something was on the way and he would have the resources to show these boys in NASCAR what he could really do with just a little bit of help. That was because Uncle Wendell was about to see that checkered flag drop on the number 34 car and claim victory.

Dominic Lawson (32:18):

But it was not to be because Wendell Scott crosses the finish line and they don't drop the checkered flag. Buck Baker comes behind him and they give him the win. Wendell Scott spoke with Ned Jarrett on the television program, Inside NASCAR, about that race.

Ned Jarrett (32:38):
What was the biggest thrill you had in racing?

Wendell Scott (32:42):

Well, I had a lot of thrills. It looked like it would've been when I won the race in Jacksonville, Florida, in '63, but for a while, it wasn't a thrill because it was two or three hours later before I was declared the winner.

Ned Jarrett (32:52):
They flagged Buck Baker for the winner.

Wendell Scott (32:53):
Yeah. Jacksonville Southern. I was third.

Ned Jarrett (32:53):
But you knew that you'd won the race.

Wendell Scott (32:59):

I had passed Buck Baker three times. I only made one pit stop for gas and didn't lose a lap, and I knew I had won. Jack Smith had the fastest time. If they had had him the winner, it would've been a question in my mind whether I had won or not, but him and Neil Castles got hung up and they went across the infield once, and I didn't know how long he stayed in the infield. But there wasn't no question in my mind about Buck Baker. I knew I had won the race.

Dominic Lawson (33:23):

Now, they would later declare Wendell the winner and give him a check. They would chalk it up to a scoring error. Okay. But I believe once again for NASCAR, just like the issue with the rookie of the year award, this was an optics issue. See, I'm not sure about now, but when you won a race back then you were cheered, there was a trophy presentation, and then there was a beauty queen, usually white, that the driver would kiss after winning. He also would not receive a trophy until two years later, again, out of the eyes of the crowd and potential sponsors, and the trophy that they gave him was literally something NASCAR just put together.

Dominic Lawson (34:08):

The Scott family would not get a proper trophy and trophy presentation for their father's only NASCAR win until nearly 60 years later on August 28th, 2021. So, once again, you can't have this black man out here being celebrated for winning a race, and you certainly can't have him on the winner's podium, kissing a white beauty queen. Again, that's not a good look for a young sport, primarily dominated by Southern white men. So here we are: pivotal moment number one, being denied the rookie of the year award in 1961, and pivotal moment number two, being denied as the winner of the race that he indeed won.

Dominic Lawson (34:56):

Each of these moments would have put Uncle Wendell in the spotlight as a star in this sport. Being a host of the Startup Life podcast, one thing I know about corporate America is that they absolutely love attaching themselves to a winner, and Uncle Wendell was certainly that. But there was no fanfare, no pageantry, which would have led to those sponsorships. This would allow more resources for Wendell Scott and Wendell Scott racing, which is a significant distinction. That is because Wendell Scott drove for Wendell Scott racing, which speaks to the enterprise of Uncle Wendell's endeavor in NASCAR, but more on that later.

Dominic Lawson (35:41):

More significantly to Uncle Wendell, that representation would've been there. There could have been more little black kids to see that representation and go, "You know what? I want to be like Wendell Scott. I want to be a race car driver." This would also help in the way that Wendell Scott, the humanitarian, wanted to do with this racing platform. In a conversation with Kyle Petty, Warrick Scott, son of Franklin and grandson to Wendell, emphasizes this point.

Warrick Scott (36:13):

I have a moment or a memory, my grandfather took me to school when I was a child in the mornings. I remember him telling me that sometimes you're expecting a big piece of a pie, but sometimes, if you're hungry enough, if you get that crumb or that small slice, you can take it and turn it into a whole meal. I know that I experienced the lingering effects of his NASCAR career.

Kyle Petty (36:41): Yeah.

Warrick Scott (36:42):
See, the win was the thing that was intended to change the trajectory, not just of his family, but of his community.

Kyle Petty (36:49):
[crosstalk 00:36:49] humanitarian.

Warrick Scott (36:50):
Yeah. And so, that part, not ballooning into [crosstalk 00:36:54] the next thing, I know that stuck with him to the very end.

Dominic Lawson (36:58):

As if all of this wasn't enough, Wendell Scott was harassed on multiple fronts, with an absurd amount of car inspections, multiple car vandalizations, and people would wreck his car on purpose. Wendell received multiple death threats, also. Franklin Scott emphasizes this point and shares his father's determination and grit.

Franklin Scott (37:22):
But he wasn't allowed to race at certain speedways. He had death threats not to come to Atlanta and

Daddy'd say, "Look, if I leave in a pine box, that's what I got to do, but I'm going to race."

Dominic Lawson (37:32):

And Uncle Wendell would keep racing. Not only keep racing, but getting better. In '63, he would finish 15th in the points as a driver. In '64, he would finish 12th. '65, he finishes 11th, and '66, arguably his best year, he would finish six. In '67, he would finish 10th, and in '68 and '69, he finishes ninth.

Dominic Lawson (38:07):

Let's revisit '66 for a second, though. Remember, he would finish six in the point standings, but as a driver, but Wendell Scott Racing finished third. That is a significant distinction like I mentioned earlier. That's because not only did you get more money as an owner, but your entire team was clearly racing well. There was actually a period of time that a white driver, Earl Brooks, would drive for Wendell Scott racing. That '66 year tells us that not only was he a great driver and a master mechanic, but Uncle Wendell was also a great NASCAR team leader, going head-up and being competitive against his more funded counterparts.

Dominic Lawson (38:57):

Look, I know it sounds like I'm beating a dead horse, but I have to remind you, once again: Wendell Scott racing had no major corporate backings or sponsorship. Everything that they had the money for came from winning in auto racing. And those winnings throughout his entire career would amount to over $200,000.

Dominic Lawson (39:22):
Scott would run as many races as he could. Tom Higgins, a longtime columnist from the Charlotte Observer, shares a unique story.

Tom Higgins (39:31):

Wendell had a problem with the left front suspension and he came onto the pit, saw how bad it was, pulled behind the pit wall, got out of the car, sent his sons running back to the garage area to get parts. And he started these repairs himself. He was the only mechanic. I was covering the pits that day and I sat back there watching this, and it was so touching. Here was this, to me, tremendous drama playing out and no one was watching it. It took him probably an hour to get the car fixed, but he stuck with it and went back in the race because the few extra dollars that he would've gotten from gaining a few positions was that important.

Tom Higgins (40:16):

Plus, he was a competitor. He wanted to be in the race running when it ended. That struck me. I will never forget Wendell Scott, no matter how strong a car he was in, could've been the worst car in the field, he never, ever started a single race without thinking this was the day he was going win.

Dominic Lawson (40:42):

As we get into the '70s, we find a competitive Wendell Scott, but also an older one. Wendell is still towing to all the racetracks and primarily acting as his mechanic and pit crew chief with friends and family who would help him. But as awesome as Uncle Wendell was, no one can defeat father time. In '70, '71 and '72, he finishes 14th, 19th, and 40th, and at that point, Wendell decided that he would go all-in on racing. For years, Wendell has scratched and clawed his way to what many would consider a very decent NASCAR career by ordinary standards. But as we have seen for Wendell, it has been anything but ordinary.

Dominic Lawson (41:32):

So Wendell makes a daring move. He borrows against his property and buys the absolute best race car money can buy. Wendell Scott would get his car and take it to NASCAR's hallowed track, Talladega. I would love to tell you that after all the crap Uncle Wendell has gone through at this point in his career, this is where he rips up Talladega for the win and goes on to win what is now called at the time a Winston Cup championship. This replaces the Grand National since Reynolds Tobacco Company was now the title sponsor of NASCAR.

Dominic Lawson (42:09):

But it was not meant to be. Wendell would start the race off well at Talladega. He is moving, getting ahead of 18 drivers in the process. Of course he is because he's talented as hell, but very early in the race at about lap eight or nine, another driver would blow an engine at turn two. Scott, in an effort to avoid danger, would take his car into the infield. But, as Steve Byres, from the television program Inside NASCAR, would describe, that is only where his troubles began.

Steve Brynes (42:43):

Wendell Scott thought he had missed the worst part of the accident. His car was heading down here, into the grass. He thought it would be a safe haven, but as his car continued to roll, a huge dust cloud had formed in turn two. Out of that dust cloud emerged Lennie Pond. Lennie Pond hit Wendell Scott. Wendell Scott's career ended right here on the backstretch of Talladega.

Dominic Lawson (43:04):

That's the thing about auto racing. That's why it's such a dangerous sport. You could be flying high one day and be on top of your game, but in the blink of an eye, you can find yourself badly hurt and your entire career ended. The considerable risk most times don't pan out the way you plan. Here is an emotional Wendell Scott speaking with Hall-of-Famer, Ned Jarrett, reflecting on the accident and its financial toll.

Ned Jarrett (43:36):
The wreck at Talladega, did that pretty well end your career in grand national races?

Wendell Scott (43:39):


Well, yes. It really did. I was very much in debt because I hadn't been doing good and my boys told either get in racing and get out of racing. So I borrowed money on my property, bought me a real good car, had a [inaudible 00:43:57].

Ned Jarrett (43:57):
And then, of course, you had some physical injuries, as well.

Wendell Scott (44:03):
Yeah. It took me nine years to [inaudible 00:44:08].

Ned Jarrett (44:05): Is that right?

Dominic Lawson (44:08):
That whole ordeal was challenging on him. His entire career was rough on him. But if you ask Uncle

Wendell, would he do it all over again, the racer and competitor comes out, but with a caveat.

Ned Jarrett (44:21):
Boy, you've got a lot of memories to think back over and things. I guess you say, "Well, boy, I wish I hadn't done that."

Wendell Scott (44:27): No. I'd do it all over again.

Ned Jarrett (44:29): You would?

Wendell Scott (44:29):
I'd do it different, though.

Ned Jarrett (44:29):
Yeah. What would you do different?

Wendell Scott (44:34):
Well, I wouldn't try to make all the races. When I go to a race, I'd run as hard as I could, honestly.

Ned Jarrett (44:42):
People perhaps didn't understand that you had to run the way that you did most of the time because you didn't have the backing. You had to try to make a living in there.

Wendell Scott (44:49):
Yeah. Soon as I wanted to race in Jacksonville, I needed 900 and some dollars real bad. I left home. I didn't think I had a chance, and I won $1,100 this time.

Dominic Lawson (45:03):

Wendell would only race a few more times after Talladega, before hanging it up for good. After retirement, during the '80s, Wendell still would race sometimes, but primarily just for fun. In 1990, Wendell Scott would pass away due to complications from spinal cancer. He was 69 years old.

Dominic Lawson (45:35):

After running 495 races in NASCAR's top series with no major sponsorship, Wendell Scott would finish with one win, 20 top-five finishes, 147 top-10 finishes. That is impressive on its own, but when you add the degree of difficulty that came with his career, there is simply no way he should have pulled off those type of numbers, making it even that more impressive.

Dominic Lawson (46:08):

Uncle Wendell would be inducted into multiple Hall of Fames, from the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. But in 2012, he would be nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and three years later, a legacy would be cemented for a stock car driver from Danville.

Speaker 15 (46:30):

Hello and welcome to a special edition of the City Update, as we broadcast from Charlotte, North Carolina, home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and as Danville's own, Wendell Scott, takes his place in the hall.

Dominic Lawson (46:42):
Wendell Oliver Scott faced insurmountable odds to have the career that he had, but through it all, he

was still able to take his place among the legends of auto racing.

Speaker 16 (46:53):
Please welcome, representing 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott, his son, Franklin Scott.

Dominic Lawson (47:03):

A common theme on the Black as America podcast is racism, but it's not a central one. It is certainly not a show that intends to vilify white people. We talked about people respecting Wendell Scott throughout this episode, which made me think about white people and allyship. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Resmaa Menakem, who goes around the country and teaches about anti-racism practices and culture building. We discussed the difference between performative allyship, which is people saying, "I do this for black people. I do that for black people. I'm an ally," and then there is operational allyship, which are people who don't have to say anything because you see the work they're doing that proves it.

Dominic Lawson (47:51):

Now, there were undoubtedly performative allies within the story of Wendell Scott, but there were at least two that may qualify as operational allies for Uncle Wendell. The funny thing is, they are both Hall-of-Famers. The first was Ned Jarrett, the Hall-of-Famer, who, as a presenter of the television program Inside NASCAR, did a story on Wendell Scott, which is featured heavily in the creation of this episode for Black as America. That awareness may have been some of the groundwork for Uncle Wendell to get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Also, Ned kept it real about if the playing field was level for Scott during his career.

Ned Jarrett (48:36):

He probably did more with less than any driver that I've ever seen in the sport. He never really got the break that he needed to show the talents that he had. I've said a number of times that if he would've had the same resources that I and a lot of others in the sport had at that time, that he'd probably knock the pants off the competition. I believe that he could have won a good member of races.

Dominic Lawson (49:05):

The other was Richard Petty. King Richard, the goat. You have heard me mention him throughout this episode. He is featured in that commercial I spoke of, and the 1959 Rookie of the Year. His operational allyship goes a bit deeper. For starters, it wasn't just him. Richard's wife, Lori Petty, would mentor Franklin Scott as a kid, not only feeding him snacks but also teaching him how to score races for Wendell. There was also the time when Wendell needed a new truck to tow his car from different tracks around the country. It was Richard Petty who assisted. Here is Franklin Scott again, talking to Kyle Petty, Richard's son, about the transaction.

Franklin Scott (49:51):
He talked to your father. I could tell you what he paid for it, but I won't. But he gave him a good price.

Kyle Petty (50:01): Yeah.

Franklin Scott (50:01):
One that we could come up with the money to get. And then, what this did, it opened an opportunity.

Dominic Lawson (50:02):
And when Wendell was hurt after the wreck at Talladega in '73, Richard Petty stepped in again.

Kyle Petty (50:09):
What'd you guys do as a family, then, during that period of time? Because that was-

Franklin Scott (50:14):
Well, it was a struggle, but your father assisted.

Kyle Petty (50:18): My father?

Franklin Scott (50:19): Yeah.

Kyle Petty (50:19): No way.

Franklin Scott (50:20):

I know he sent him two checks. With the last one, he said he sent him a note. "I hope this helps. If I can be in further assistance," or whatever [crosstalk 00:50:28], "For your necessities, let me know."

Dominic Lawson (50:28):

I thought the interesting part was that even Kyle, Richard's son, didn't even know about this, which would suggest that it wasn't publicized as goodwill for Richard Petty. Beyond this, Richard Petty would go on to usher in and mentor one of NASCAR's young superstars of today.

Speaker 17 (50:48):

Well, Marty, throughout the garage, everyone seems to be in agreement that 18-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. has unquestioned talent. All he needs is seed time, experience. In just his fourth nationwide series race, he will start this race from the pull here today, so we know he can do it for one lap; the big question is can he do it for 200?

Speaker 6 (51:06):
Coming out of turn of number four, Darrell Wallace Jr. sees the white-black one more time in Martinsville.

Dominic Lawson (51:12):

Darrell Bubba Wallace Jr. is an African American stock car racer in the NASCAR cup series. Wallace, when he broke into the cup series, raced for none other than Richard Petty Motorsports, making him the first full-time African American can driver in the top series since Wendell Scott. Not only did he race for Richard Petty Motorsports, but he also drove the hall-of-famer's famed number 43 car. He would make history in 2018 by having the highest finish for a full-time rookie at the Daytona 500 when he finished second, and on October 4th, 2021, he would make history again, linking him to a legend that came before.

Speaker 6 (51:55):

History made once again. It's official: Bubba Wallace gets his first career win. He's just the second African American to ever win at the highest level of NASCAR. Over 50 years ago, Wendell Scott was the first; Bubba Wallace now officially the winner at Talladega.

Speaker 18 (52:14):
I want to know what it means to you, the second African American, first since Wendell Scott, to get to victory lane at this level.

Darrell Bubba Wallace (52:22):
Yeah. I never think about those things. When you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy, to my family, fans, friends. It's pretty cool.

Dominic Lawson (52:36):
On February 20th, 2022, Wallace came very close to winning the Great American Race, another name for the Daytona 500, coming, again, in second. Man, he was so close. He really was. But unlike Uncle Wendell, Bubba has leaned into the unique opportunity of the platform he has as a full-time African American driver in NASCAR's top series.

Dominic Lawson (53:01):

He has been very vocal about social justice and the changes needed in his sport. Bubba has driven with the decal #blacklivesmatter and was instrumental in the banning of the Confederate flag from all racing events, which included fans from bringing them to the track. Standing by him and supporting him the entire time was Richard Petty. I'm sure that cost Petty Motorsport sponsorships, but you have to wonder if Richard wanted to make a few things right from what he saw happen to Wendell Scott long ago.

Dominic Lawson (53:37):

But you know, something interesting is happening in auto racing. Black America is getting into the sport. Now, that is not to say we weren't in it before. Obviously, there's multiple examples, the first being Wendell Scott, of course, but there's also Bill Lester, and Willy T. Ribbs, and countless other drivers, and don't forget about my guy and arguably the goat of formula one, Sir Lewis Hamilton across the pond, not to mention former NBA player, Brad Daugherty, who is a team owner in the sport and has done NASCAR commentary for multiple networks.

Dominic Lawson (54:15):

But there is an apparent shift happening. The Daytona 500 that took place in February of 2022 marked the most race teams with black owners in the history of the sport. Daugherty, who I mentioned earlier, NFL legend, Emmett Smith, boxing legend, Floyd Mayweather, an entrepreneur, John Cohen, and then, there's his airness.

Speaker 19 (54:39):
Jordan. Oh, a spectacular move by Michael Jordan!

Dominic Lawson (54:46):
Michael Jordan in 2021 teamed with NASCAR legend, Denny Hamlin, to form 2311 Racing. The first driver they acquired in 2021 was Bubba Wallace.

Dominic Lawson (54:57):

It's not just the change in the ownership, but in the pit crews and the interest in the sport from black America. That same Daytona 500, it also fielded its first African American race director. Black America may not have been included in the sport in its infancy, but make no mistake, we are here now. The doors that are beginning to open in the sport for more diversity will not only make it more competitive, but more profitable.

Dominic Lawson (55:26):

But more importantly, you'll begin to see little black kids see themselves and see a Bubba Wallace and say, "You know what? I want to do that, too." The seed for all of that change was planted by Wendell Scott, who didn't set out to be a trailblazer, but surely became one on and off the track. The proud son of Danville, Virginia, may have met racism, discrimination, and oppression at the starting line, but due to his ingenuity and mental toughness, as his son would say, he beat 'em all. That is why Wendell Oliver Scott is truly an American racing legend.

Dominic Lawson (56:12):

The Black as America podcast, a presentation of Al's Education, was created and is written, researched, and produced by me, Dominic Lawson. Executive producer: Kendall Lawson. Cover art was created by Alexandria Eddings of Art Life Connections. This episode was created thanks to the help of sources from the television program Inside NASCAR, Story Corps, Motorsports on NBC, ESPN, and the Wendell Scott Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports educational development through cultural activities, STEM-based programs, and mentorship endeavors. Please go to wendellscott.org to find out more and make a donation. Be sure to like, review. And subscribe to the Black as America podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

Dominic Lawson (57:07):

For a full transcript of this episode and other resources go to www.blackasamericapodcast.com. There, you can read our blog, leave us a review, or you can leave us a voicemail where you can ask a question or let us know what you think about the show, and we may play that in an upcoming episode. You could also hit the donation button if you like what you heard, which helps us create more educational content like this.

Dominic Lawson (57:35):

Finally, thank you so much for listening to the Black as America podcast, where our history comes to life. Until next time, I just want to say thank you again for listening to the Black as America podcast. We really hope you are enjoying these stories. Now, I know Black History Month is over, but that doesn't mean the Black as America podcast is. We're going to go on a break for a few weeks, but be sure to go to blackasamericapodcast.com for updates on when we are coming back and listen to all the available episodes that are there now. So continue to live your truth, make the ancestors proud, and we will talk to you soon.