When it comes to breaking down color barriers in the world of sports, perhaps no one had it tougher than Wendell Scott.
Scott crossed the color line in NASCAR, that bastion of good ole southern boys, obtaining his NASCAR license in 1953, just six years after Jackie Robinson crossed baseball’s color line.
Attracted to speed as a youth, Scott raced around on his bicycle or roller skates, speeding down the steep hills of Danville, Virginia, on one skate or daring white boys to beat him in bicycle races.
He dropped out of high school and became a taxi driver and then enlisted in the Army in World War II, serving in a segregated unit in Europe.
After leaving the service, he ran an auto repair shop and, as a sideline, began running moonshine to make some money on the side, where his love for speed helped him outrun police.
He said he only got caught once, serving three years probation.
It was during that period of his life that Scott began attending stock car races in Danville, sitting in the blacks-only section.
He was later asked to race at the Danville track, which was operated by the Dixie Circuit, one of several regional racing organizations that competed with NASCAR at the time. According to his biography “Hard Driving,” the Dixie Circuit wanted to recruit a black driver to race against the whites.
They asked the Danville police who the fastest black driver was and the police, recalling the times they had chased Scott, recommended him.
His first race came in May 1952. His car broke down.
He later tried to enter NASCAR races, but was turned down.
The following year he convinced the NASCAR steward at the Richmond, Virginia race track to grant him a NASCAR license. The steward, Mike Poston, agreed to grant him the license, which made him an official member of NASCAR, even though NASCAR officials weren’t pleased with Poston or Scott.
He won dozens of races during nine years of regional competition before becoming the first black to enter a Grand National Series race in March 1961 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Two and a half years later, he won a race in Jacksonville, Florida, becoming the first black to win a race at NASCAR”s highest level.
That was his only win, but he had 147 top 10 finishes in 485 starts on the Grand National circuit before being forced to retire after a racing accident at Talladega, Alabama, in 1973.
He died of spinal cancer in 1990 at the age of 69.
He was inducted posthumously into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Jan. 30 of this year.