In 1952, a track promoter went to the police station in Danville, Virginia, looking for recommendations on bootleggers to use as a marketing ploy for the “Dixie Circuit.”
“What they told him at the police station was, ‘The one you really want is Wendell Scott,” said Frank Scott on the latest episode of “Coffee with Kyle.”
Kyle Petty visited Danville, a town located 33 miles east of Martinsville, to talk with the family of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, the only African-American driver to win a premier level NASCAR race (Dec. 1, 1963 in Jacksonville, Florida).
Petty sat down with his son, Frank, and grandson, Warrick, to discuss Wendell’s life and career.
Petty asked how Scott was attracted to stock car racing, a predominately white sport in the segregated south.
“He loved speed,” Frank said. “He and one of his friends used to go to the Danville fairgrounds and race there. He was already a bootlegger. But he said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.”
Scott eventually gave NASCAR a shot. Petty tells the story of Scott being denied entry into a race in High Point, North Carolina, where he told a white driver could race in his car. Scott refused.
It was one of many instances where the color of Scott’s skin negatively impacted his racing dreams, including being refused the trophy for his win in 1963 … after he beat second place by two laps.
He eventually got a NASCAR license and competed as an independent driver from 1961-73.
“There wasn’t but one place in that era that wouldn’t allow us to race, and that was Darlington,” Frank said of the track, which used a Confederate flag to start races at the time. “In ’62, ’63 and ’64 his entries were rejected. … Then when the Civil Rights Act passed we ran at Darlington in ’65 and then on.”
One snub that stayed with Scott was the 1961 Rookie of the Year Award. While Scott competed in 23 of 52 races that year and claimed five top 10s, the award went to a driver named Woodie Wilson, who made five starts and had one top 10.
“I think my father, other than not getting his trophy at Jacksonville, that’s one of things that bothered him more throughout his career, throughout his life to not receive Rookie of the Year honors,” Frank said. “That was a travesty.”
The legacy of Wendell Scott is still seen decades later. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2018, a section of highway near Danville was named after him and he was portrayed by Joseph Lee Anderson in an episode of the NBC time travel drama “Timeless.”
His legacy is also continued through the work of the Wendell Scott Foundation, which was founded by Warrick. The foundation works to “expose youth to STEM-based educational opportunities and cultural enrichment activities that historically have not been assessed in under-served communities.”
Watch the above video for more on Wendell Scott and his history with the Petty family.