By now, most have heard about Bubba Wallace — “That Black NASCAR driver.” However, before him, there was Wendell Scott. We’ve seen a few photos here and there, but no one knows the real story of the Danville, VA native and his rise in the ranks of a sport dominated by southern white men…until now. The Black community – especially in hip hop – idolizes the hustler and that’s even more reason why it is important to learn the origins of the only Black man immortalized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Prior to speeding around the racetrack, Wendell owned a cab company. For those unfamiliar with the city of Danville, it was the last capital of the Confederacy. That is what makes the athlete’s story that much more incredible. His level of independence as a Black man was rare at that time. Wendell later entered the military where he was a soldier, mechanic, boxer, and paratrooper. When he returned from his service, he was denied his cab license, which led him down a different path – bootlegging. The Bondurant brothers, whose story was brought to the big screen in 2012’s Lawless were the bigger bootleggers in Franklin County during Prohibition. Wendell’s relationship with the family provided him with the purest of moonshine, a stream of income, and important connections. However, these were still illegal activities during the time and Wendell’s penchant for drag racing and outrunning the cops forged his unlikely path to NASCAR, believe it or not. With attendance down, officials at a regional racing organization got the bright idea to add Wendell to the lineup to draw a crowd. In 1951, he raced for the first time at the Danville Speedway and finished third. What started out as a gimmick became the start of a historic career.
Though his appearance at the Dixie Circuit was successful, NASCAR did not immediately take a liking to the multi-talented driver. After being denied the opportunity to race in NASCAR-sanctioned events in Winston-Salem and High Point, North Carolina, he decided to pump the brakes on his NASCAR ambitions for the time being. Staying with the Dixie Circuit, he won his first race only 12 days into his career. In 1954, his NASCAR license was approved by steward Mike Poston and he became the first Black driver in history. By 1959, he received the Virginia State Sportsman title… Not bad for a bootlegger. After moving up to the Grand National Series in 1961, he scored the most ever points for a “rookie.”
Ten years after obtaining his license, Wendell became the first African-American driver to win a Grand National event when he won the Jacksonville 200. This milestone was not without controversy, as Buck Baker was initially declared the winner and it took race officials two hours to realize that not only had Wendell won the race, he actually finished two laps ahead of the rest of the field. Although NASCAR credited Wendell with the win two years later, his family did not receive the Jacksonville 200 trophy until 2021. The win remained the only one in NASCAR’S top 3 series by a Black driver until Bubba Wallace won the Kroger 200 in 2013. By the time the OG retired from racing in 1973, Wendell accumulated 147 top-10 finishes and 20 top-5 finishes in 495 career races. In 2015, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
So why don’t we, as the Black community, know more about Wendell and his legacy? That answer is easy according to Warrick Scott, the racing legend’s grandson. Warrick spoke exclusively to REVOLT about the hurdles faced in spreading the word about his grandfather’s legacy and the strides made toward that effort in the past year. According to him, lack of commercial presence is the biggest culprit. “If there is no enterprising behind it, no matter how righteous or historic your movement may be, nobody knows about it.” It’s something that Warrick has teamed up with several individuals and companies to combat. You see, NASCAR has long been seen as a white man’s sport due to a racist history that the organization is continuing to work to overcome and due to its tough barriers to entry. To get involved in the sport of racing takes money. Lots of it.
In those 495 races that we spoke about, Wendell did not have commercial sponsorship. Money won during his racing career went back into racing and into sending all seven of his children to HBCUs. After his death, the family was forced to sell most, if not all, of his memorabilia to pay for mounting medical bills stemming from his battle with spinal cancer. In 2020, they were finally able to reacquire his 1973 Ford passenger car – fashioned into a dirt track race car by the hands of Wendell himself – in an auction. The car and the driver served as inspiration for the River Scott character in the Cars 3 movie. Warrick worked with Pixar on the development of the character and feels that representation like that will help a new legion of race fans become familiar with his grandfather. Earlier this year, producer David Steward II signed a deal with Wendell 34 Racing to bring the icon’s legacy to a new audience by way of films, television series, digital content, and games. Wendell Scott Ventures, a company created to handle the trademark, licensing, merchandising for the late icon; is working directly with Steward’s Lion Forge Films. First up is a docu-series and a fictionalized limited series available on television and via streaming networks that will delve into the details of Wendell’s life before, during, and after racing.
Unbeknownst to many, Michael Jordan is not the first Black team owner in NASCAR history. That is yet another honor that belongs to the 1954 Jacksonville 200 winner. Wendell’s sons Wendell Jr. and Frank were the first Black crew chiefs, and Wendell’s Black pit crew was the first of its kind. The Scott family is responsible for a lot of first in NASCAR history, but those facts are little known due to what Warrick calls a “lack of corporate presence.” Brandon Thompson, NASCAR’s vice president of diversity and inclusion has been instrumental in working with the family to eradicate Wendell’s lack of visibility in the past when it comes to the organization.
While the Scott family may have missed hip hop’s race car jacket phase, they are working through their non-profit, the Wendell Scott Foundation, to make a difference for the youth and provide them with opportunities in the racing world. The foundation runs three programs for those ages 8-18 who have been identified as “at risk.” One of the programs, Steering to Stem, looks to identify engineering talent by using race car sims as hands-on activities. Another program, Camp Cultivation, takes kids to summer camp at an HBCU and lets them experience life as college students for three days. The organization’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, especially to NFL running back and Danville native Trey Edmunds. “Growing up in Danville, Virginia; we looked up to Wendell Scott. He was a part of our history. He was one of our heroes and he looked like us. My parents made sure we were aware of all Black heroes, but more specifically the ones in our backyard,” Edmunds tells REVOLT.
“I think it’s real beautiful to see all the work his family continues to do to keep his name alive. The Wendell Scott foundation is extremely active in the city from their annual galas, community appearances, and local history lessons they provide. My family has nothing but respect for the mark they’ve left on sports in America, but also knowing they’re history. Black history!”
Jimmy Thomas works with Clarence Avant – a name widely regarded as the most influential executive in the music industry. He is working exclusively on the Scott family’s film projects and overall industry connectivity. He told REVOLT, “Working with Mr. Avant for 30 years, I have learned the importance of protecting and carrying on the legacy of innovators and people of color that have made significant change, and impacted our positioning and the way we are perceived to the world. He was instrumental in instructing me on the importance of getting this story out to the world in its truest form. After connecting Mr. Avant with the Scott family — and Clarence having a chance to speak to Frank Scott — the path was created and the blessing was given for me to use him as a resource and make sure it happened. So, when the God Father asks you to do something, you get it done!“
It is partnerships such as this one that Warrick hopes will change the direction of his grandfather’s legacy. After all, Wendell isn’t just a name to be reduced to the footnotes when speaking of Wallace’s current accomplishments. In February, the Foundation holds a black-tie fundraiser honoring the Jacksonville 200 win with entertainment by Grammy winning performers. Next year’s event will take place in Charlotte, NC on Feb. 13.