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Wendell Scott: First Black NASCAR Driver to Win a Pro Race

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Wendell Scott drove during the Jim Crow Era when segregation was commonplace. Instead of being discouraged, he was inspired and always showed up for races. His bravery paved the way for black drivers

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It’s unfortunate that his accomplishments weren’t recognized during his competitive days. Nonetheless, Wendell Scott’s influence as the first black NASCAR driver remains. 

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Wendell Scott’s Childhood

Wendell Oliver Scott grew up in Danville, Virginia. From early on, he was determined not to work in the mills and plantations. As such, he got involved in auto-mechanics through his father, who taught him about cars. 

His skills came in handy during World War II. Wendell Scott was drafted into the army and worked as a mechanic. Post-war, he started an auto repair shop and also engaged in running moonshine. 

Although this helped him to get into professional racing, he was often in a cat-and-mouse chase with the police, whom he beat on several occasions.  

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Entry Into Professional Racing

Wendell Scott was so good that in 1951, when Dixie Circuit was looking for a black driver, the police referred them to Scott. In 1952, he became the first African American to compete in a stock car. 

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Aside from this, he raced in small tracks, but even then, he faced discrimination. Despite him winning the race against his white competitors, the officials refused to drop the chequered flag and deliberately denied him victory. 

This strengthened his desire to become a professional driver. Scott tried to enter the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) several times but was turned away because of his race. As such, he continued racing on smaller tracks and won his first race at Lynchburg while pushing for a spot in NASCAR. 

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Breakthrough

Wendell Scott eventually became the first black NASCAR driver after he got a license from a white driver. Just like he’d learned to work his way up into pro racing, Scott did the same here. He eventually got to the Sprint Cup Division. 

In 1963, Scott became the first black NASCAR driver to win the Sprint Cup Division in Jacksonville Jaguar. However, he wasn’t recognized as the winner of the event. A white driver who came in second was announced the winner until corrections were made a few days later, but he never got his hands on the trophy.  

Despite Wendell’s success and competitiveness, he didn’t receive sponsorship, which took a toll on his career. 

Scott’s racing career was cut short in 1973 after a horrific car crash. He returned to his auto-repair business and got a lot more customers after a successful racing career. In 1977, Scott Wendell was enlisted into the National Black Athletic Hall of Fame.  

Being the first black NASCAR driver wasn’t easy, but Scott Wendell embraced the challenge. He didn’t allow anyone to hold him back, and although he didn’t get the credit he deserved when he lived, today, the world recognizes his impact on black NASCAR drivers.

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