This past week Nascar announced five new named to the exisiting list of 20 named for nomination into its Hall of Fame. The name for me that stood out was Wendell Scott. Wendell was the most tenured African American to drive in Nascar’s highest level, Sprint Cup (formally known as Winston Cup), and was a fixture in the sport in from 1961 until a crash in Talledega in 1973 after which his injuries no longer allowed him to race.
Wendell had one win in that span of 495 races but also 147 top ten finishes and 20 top five finishes. If it wasn’t for the crash in Talledega he may have raced even longer.
Wendell was not the first African American to race in Nascar, that credit goes to Elias Bowie in 1955.
But Wendell competed in what could only have been an hostile environment in a sport that has obviously lacked diversity for a long time. I credit Nascar for recognizing Wendell and his achivements and though he may not be Hall of Fame worthy, he does deserve to have a special spot in the Hall for being a true trailblazer for men of color. Wendell was not one of these “start & park” drivers like now who race a few laps and then quit, just to get sponsorship money or like a large group of Nascar drivers who seem content with simply racing, not taking chances and simply vying for a safe finish. If you are a African American man in the 1960’s racing in Nascar in the deep south, I’m sure everything was a challenge.
There have only been a few African American men to race after Wendell, Willy T Ribs in 1986 & Bill Lester in 2006.
Now I won’t plead and beg Nascar to open the doors for African Americans or to stregthen their watered down “Diversity Program”. It seems its just not in their 10W40 to have diverse sport. Sure Danica Patrick is racing in the AAA level Nationwide Series & part time in the Sprint Cup series but seriously, how much of that is promotion and sponsorhip dollars and not about serious racing.
For this alone Wendell should be celebrated more. Inronically as I write this its April 15th which is “Jackie Robinson Day”, celebrating 65 years since Jackie broke the first sports color line by playing major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I’ve never been one for “token” players, my thing has always been to have a level playing field. I think you can see by Wendell’s numbers, he was a legit racer and competed in one of the toughest fields of racing that there is.
So I salute Wendell for his sacrifice and success in the sport and that he will never be forgotten.