Wendell Scott earned a second NASCAR first on Wednesday: He became the first African-American driver to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The late driver from Virginia was among the latest group of five — all drivers, another first — voted in the hall on Wednesday. Scott joins popular NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, two-time series champ Joe Weatherly, 1960 champion Rex White and 26-time race winner Fred Lorenzen.
Scott competed in NASCAR’s top series from 1961-73. He won his only race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963, taking the checkered flag in the 100-mile feature after starting 15th. Scott started 495 Sprint Cup events and had a 147 top 10 finishes.
“I just felt like that his time was coming and he would say that too, one day it’s going to happen,” said Scott’s son, Franklin.
When Scott’s name was called there were enthusiastic shouts and applause from fans, officials and family members gathered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame rotunda. He was the second-leading vote getter behind Elliott from a 54-member panel, including current Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Scott, who died in 1990, was the first African-American driver to race fulltime in NASCAR’s top series. He had won more than 100 races at local tracks before stepping up to race against NASCAR’s best. Among Scott’s legacy to the sport is the sport’s Drive for Diversity initiative, one of the top youth development programs for multicultural and female drivers across the motorsports industry that’s been in place since 2004.
“The next inductee gives me additional pride,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said in introducing Scott, “Because he undoubted scaled and climbed the highest mountain.”
Scott’s story was loosely portrayed in the 1977 movie, “Greased Lightning,” where Richard Pryor starred as Scott, the one-time taxi driver from Danville, Virginia.
“He said one day they are going to write a book about me,” Franklin Scott said of his father. “He had great determination. He was a great ambassador for the sport.”
A quick look at the five newest members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame:
In a 37-year driving career, Bill Elliott’s 44 wins rank 16th all-time and his 55 poles rank eighth. But his most prestigious accomplishment came in 1988 when he won the NASCAR Cup series championship with six wins, 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes in 29 races. In addition, he won a record 16 Most Popular Driver Awards.
Fred Lorenzen was one of NASCAR’s first true superstars even though he was a part-time driver, never running more than 29 of the season’s 50-plus races. Lorenzen got his start in NASCAR as a mechanic with the famed Holman-Moody team in 1960, but was elevated to lead driver by the end of the year.
Wendell Scott was the first African-American to race fulltime in NASCAR’s premier series, as well as the first to win a premier series race. Scott posted a remarkable 147 top 10s and 495 starts during his 13-year career. He won more than 100 races at local tracks before making his premier series debut, including 22 races at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia.
Joe Weatherly won two championships (1962-63) and 25 races in NASCAR’s premier series. A decade earlier in 1952-53, he won 101 races in the NASCAR Modified division, capturing that championship in 1953. He even tried his hand in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Division from 1956-59 winning 12 times.
Consistency was the hallmark of Rex White’s NASCAR career. He finished among the top five in nearly a half of his 233 races and outside the top 10 only 30 percent of the time. White was a short-track specialist in an era in which those tracks dominated the schedule. Of his 28 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series, only two came on tracks longer than a mile in length.