Late Hall of Famer Wendell Scott was the first – and so far, only – black driver to win a race on what is now known as the NASCAR Nextel Cup Circuit.
A LEGEND’S LORE
Famous black driver’s son debunks myths surrounding his father
Wendell Scott Jr. listens to the story of the time his father blew an engine in his race car and replaced it with one from a pickup truck.
He shakes his head.
“That never happened,” says Scott, whose late father was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame five years ago. “We pulled some stuff, but we sure didn’t use a truck engine to race with. Stuff like that just sensationalizes my father – it makes him look like a clown.
“We certainly want the recognition, but I think it’s important to set the record straight.”
Scott was the first – and to date, only – black driver to win a race on what is now known as the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit.
But until his nomination and subsequent induction into the Hall, most of the casual race fan’s knowledge of Scott came from the film Greased Lightning.
“The initial script of the movie I thought was better,” Scott says. “It was more accurate, and they were going to call it Good Ole Boy; then they decided to call it The Challenger. But then they had trouble filling the lead role, and there was a lot of politics involved.
“They tried to get Bill Cosby, but he was too expensive; then they tried to get Issac Hayes, and Dad definitely didn’t want him playing the part. Then they decided on Richard Pryor, and even though Dad had a great sense of humor, the movie became too much of a comedy. There was enough about him to make it interesting, but it certainly didn’t tell the story that we really think needs to be told.”
Scott began his racing career in 1947 in his hometown of Danville, Va. In the next few years he won 128 hobby, amateur and modified races, and in 1959 he grabbed 22 checkers and claimed both the Richmond track championship as well as the Virginia State Sportsman title.
He moved up to the Grand National Division (now Nextel Cup) circuit in 1961.
On Dec. 1, 1963, he entered the history books when he visited victory lane in the NASCAR event at Jacksonville, holding off hard-charging Buck Baker for the checker.
The younger Wendell, along with brother Frankie, went along for more than just the ride.
“In the early days Frankie and I were his pit crew,” says Scott, who bears a striking resemblance to his father. “My first paycheck was when I was 9 years old, and Dad gave me $5 for working the pits. Over time we had six or seven other people working with us, and that helped keep us competitive. I was crew chief, and Frankie handled the chassis.
“You’ll hear people talk about how Dad never had a pit crew, but you don’t win as many races as he did by yourself. From 1966-69, we finished in the top 10 in points, and you can’t do that without a true pit crew.”
Competing in an all-white, all-Southern sport during an era in which blacks were commonly denied basic civil rights makes Scott’s achievements even more remarkable. His son says the driver simply took any resistance he faced in stride.
“He got through it, and we got through it,” Scott says. “We had enough good things happening to us that sustained us and helped us get through the bad times.
“We had a lot of fans pulling for us back then, and there were lots of times when Dad would sign about as many autographs as Richard Petty did. Even today, people will come by the trophy room in our house and just pay homage to Dad. He was a people person, and a lot more people liked him than didn’t. For every one person who was nasty, there were 100 who were nice.”
One obstacle father and sons faced came in 1961. The driver crashed at Nashville and tore up 100 yards of guard rail in a Ford he bought from fellow Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett. The only other car Scott had was a 1960 Chevy, which was back in Danville.
“We went to Danville, got the car and brought it all the way back to Nashville,” Scott says. “No garage would let us work on the car there, and even the people at the track wouldn’t let us come in and change engines.
“We ended up completely changing the power train in an alleyway near the track; then we had to take the car to the next race in Huntsville. After all that work, we still blew an engine on the third lap of the race. So that was a bad situation, but that’s a true story about Dad and not a myth like some of these other things you hear.”
Yet, the bad times were always overcome by the good, and the racing pioneer’s quick wit made laughter a way of life for the family. Scott says any time a writer approached his father, one of the first questions asked would be, “How does it feel to be the only black in racing?”
His answer: “Well, being black is a lot of fun, but there ain’t no money in it.”
And while Pryor perhaps overplayed the humorous side of Scott in Greased Lightning, his son says his dad was known to come up with his share of zingers.
“We were watching a race on TV once, and Buddy Baker was driving a car sponsored by Crisco,” Scott remembers. “We had always had a low budget being independents and all, so we never really got much sponsorship money.
“But Dad saw Buddy going around the track in that Crisco car, and he said, ‘Hell, white folks don’t even cook with Crisco, and we do. They should’ve sponsored us.’ We just kept things light, and that was the way Dad liked it.”
Scott was deaf in one ear, and doctors told him if he continued racing he would go deaf in the other. That didn’t faze him.
“Dad never even thought about giving up racing because he loved it,” Scott says. “He couldn’t afford a hearing aid, so he just put cotton balls in both ears and kept on racing. And what he earned racing provided for all of us.
“He put my brother and me through school to study engines, and Frankie became one of the best chassis men around.”
Scott Jr. went on to race himself, competing on the Grand National East circuit from 1971-73.
“Racing was a family affair,” he says. “We all pitched in, and it’s something we all love. Dad was a great man and a great driver, and I just think it’s important to know the truth about him.”
CHOPPER FOR KIDS
Famous chop shop donates motorcycle to Victory Junction Camp
The Discovery Channel’s Orange County Chopper duo – Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. – have been commissioned to build a commemorative custom chopper to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Camp, in Randleman, N.C. The camp is a memorial to Adam Petty, the son of Kyle and Pattie Petty, who lost his life in a racing accident in May 2000.
The purpose of Victory Junction is to enrich the lives of children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating camping experiences that are memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe and medically sound.
“I met [the Teutels] a couple of times,” Petty says. “This is what I told [Teutul Jr.] the first time I met him. They make fun of him; they give him all the crap jobs, and I said, ‘That’s kind of the same way my father and everybody did me, and look, I grew up to run the company, too. So, it’s going to be all yours someday, man, I am telling you.’
“It’s pretty cool to be part of this program and see the exposure these guys get.”
Teutel Sr. says his affiliation with the program has helped him develop a greater appreciation for NASCAR.
“This is kind of a new experience,” he says. “We have been doing it for about a year. We are not NASCAR fans from way back in the day, but we are just becoming fans. It is pretty interesting to see the track and how much goes into it and the pit crews. It is just really awesome.”