Wendell Scott was the first black driver in NASCAR and the first to win a race at its highest level.
Born: Aug. 29, 1921
Died: Dec. 23, 1990
His story: Scott was born in Danville, Virginia. He learned to be an auto mechanic from his father and opened a shop after serving in the Army during World War II. He started racing on the Dixie Circuit because blacks were not allowed to race in NASCAR. He won his first race in Lynchburg, Virginia, and would compete up to five times a week. He persuaded Mike Poston, a NASCAR steward, to grant him a NASCAR license during an event at Richmond Speedway in 1953. He spent almost nine years at the regional level before moving up to the Grand National division in 1961. He debuted in the Spartanburg 200 and two years later won the Jacksonville 200 to become the first black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s top division. But Scott, who faced racism throughout his career, was not initially declared the winner, as second-place finisher Bud Baker received the checkered flag. Scott was later given the victory after officials sorted through an alleged clerical error. Scott competed in 495 Grand National races, with 147 top-10 finishes, before he retired after an accident in 1973. Smith did not live to see his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. He died of cancer in 1990.
Fast fact: Richard Pryor starred in Greased Lightning, a 1977 movie about Scott’s life.
Quotable: Scott’s son, Frank, told NPR that one of his father’s favorite sayings was: “When it’s too tough for everybody else, it’s just right for me.”
The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.
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