Today Wendell Scott was elected into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, yes the 1960’s and 70’s trailblazing African American racer is now posthumously honored in the hallowed halls with NASCAR’s finest in Charlotte North Carolina. Though there was already a small exhibit about him, now he has truly been elected by his peers as one of the greatest.
I have to sit back and reflect on that, I understand its 2014 and we are in the second decade of NASCAR’s “Drive to Diversity” program but as a lifelong fan of NASCAR (who happens to be African American), this is significant.
Last fall NASCAR Camping World Truck driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was the first African American to win a NASCAR race (on any level), since Wendell Scott when he won the Richmond race that was in the backyard of the late Wendell Scott. And the significance and location of the win wasn’t lost on Bubba, in his post race comments he praised Wendell and path he laid. I was in Indianapolis that weekend reading about the race on my phone in a hotel room and was just besides myself.
I know for some people we should be in a post racial society (where we are truly judged as Dr King said “By the content of our character and not the color of our skin”), with a African American man well in into his second term at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave but for those of us who know the history, the struggle and hard road that men like Wendell drove though, it’s just beyond righteous when they get their due.
My late father was an amateur drag race in the 1960’s & 1970’s when Wendell was racing in NASCAR, and though the cars were fast, the world was changing and strong men like Wendell and my dad were racing for more than just a win. Now I know for my dad all he wanted to do was race like everyone else (and I’m sure it was the same for Wendell), but these men competed against the odds, other racers and yes Jim Crow laws.
When Wendell got his sole win in 1963, it was deemed too close to call and he was not awarded the win until days later. Now there was debate that it was racially motivated not to give him a win on TV in victory lane but none the less, Wendell continue to race and have top ten finishes on NASCAR’s highest stage for another decade. In fact in his 13 year NASCAR career (1961-1973), he competed in 495 races, finishing in the top 10 in 147 of them.
But there has not been another African American to race on that stage continually since, Willy T. Ribbs, made several race appearances in the mid 1980’s and Bill Lester competed several races during the 2006 year. But neither raced week after week, year after year like Wendell Scott did.
Now Bill Lester did have a successful career in NASCAR’s lower level Nationwide and Truck series and that’s where the aforementioned Bubba Wallace is right now. He’s part of Kyle Busch Motorsports and every race he’s a threat to cross the checkered flag first.
But he’s still got another step to go to compete in the Sprint Cup series, the top dogs of the NASCAR world.
Though I can say in the last six years that I’ve personally attended NASCAR races, the crowds are becoming more diverse and not just African Americans are in the stands, all minorities are coming out to the track to enjoy the races. And on the track there are other minorities (Juan Pablo Montoya just finished a nice run as a Sprint Cup driver), who compete on all levels of NASCAR, so the sport more reflects the world we live in.
So today it’s great to know that one of the first men of color to strap in a NASCAR and race (and win), will be now be honored with greatest that ever participated in this excellent sport.
I just wish he and my dad could see this.
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