With the Nascar (National Association of Stock Car Auto
Racing), season to begin this weekend at Daytona Beach with the Daytona 500,
let me give you a quick primer and then divulge into a little African American
Nascar is made up of three levels, the entry level is the
Truck Series sponsored by Camping World. This is the starting point for rookie
drivers as well as older drivers who honestly can’t make the cut in the higher series. The races are shorter, the
stock style pickup trucks they drive are simpler and it’s basically minor
Then there is the Nationwide series (previously known as the
Busch series), this is higher training ground say AAA in baseball. Many drivers
on the top series contend in this series as well (though they do not earn
championship points), and it’s a place where those coming up get their “chops”.
Though its closer to the higher level than the truck series, it’s still not
quite there. The cars are different, races aren’t as long and competition not
Then there is Cup series or currently called Sprint Cup
(previously called Winston Cup & Nextel Cup), obviously named after
sponsors. Sponsors are huge in racing, with the cars covered in advertisements;
it’s all about the dollars.
Now from the outside Nascar does not look very diverse but
it does have a short history of African American drivers.
Depending who you ask
one of two people could be the first African American to race in Nascar, some
people claim Elias Bowie ran in one race on July 31, 1955 in San Mateo, CA. And
others (including Nascar official records) say Charlie Scott ran in one race on
Daytona Beach on February 26, 1956.
But the African American man who had the longest career in
Nascar (1961-1973), was Wendell Scott (no relation to Charlie), Wendell is also
the only African American man to win a Cup race in Nascar on December 1, 1963.
Now he was not given immediate credit for that win. It was deemed too close to
call and he was not announced as the winner of that race until two days later.
During Wendell’s career he competed in 495 races, had 20 top 5 finishes &
147 top 10 finishes.
But it wouldn’t be until April 20, 1986 that the next driver
Willy T. Ribbs would start at North Wilkesboro Speedway and then race two more
times that year but never being a contender, in fact his last two starts the
races ended early for him due to engine failure.
But Willy has had a dynamic career in other forms of auto racing,
he currently competes in Grand Am racing (sponsored by Rolex), and competed in
Indy Racing (IRL), until last year.
Bill Lester is the last African American to race on the Cup
level in Nascar. He started the race in Atlanta on March 20, 2006 and also raced later that year at Michigan Speedway.
He was also the first African American to race in the
Nationwide series starting in 1999. He also regularly competed in the Truck
series as well from 2002-2007.
But in the high dollar and big sponsor world of Nascar Bill struggled to get consistent sponsorship and like Willy T. Ribbs he went to compete in the Rolex Grand Am Series where he became the first African American to win in the Grand Am series on May 14, 2011 at Virginia International Raceway.
As for the future of African Americans in Nascar there are two men who may be in the Cup series one day. One is already in the Nationwide Series (and drove in the Truck Series for NFL star Randy Moss), he is Marc Davis who has been in the two lower levels of Nascar since 2008.
The newest and brightest star to enter Nascar is American Motorcross champion (2007 & 2009), James Stewart Jr. James signed a deal to drive for former Super Bowl Champion coach Joe Gibbs in the Nationwide series last October. James is the first African American to win a championship in any top level of American motorsports and seems to be the next African American to enter Nascar and hopefully should diversify the sport where few men of color have raced.