The NASCAR Hall of Fame inducts an African-American driver for the first time Friday night.
Wendell Scott drove during the Jim Crow era, and he was the first African-American to win a race at NASCAR’s elite major league level. He died in 1990.
Scott’s career began in 1952, and his racing team was his family. They would travel to races together from their home in Virginia, and his sons served as his pit crew.
“It was like Picasso, like a great artist doing his work,” says Scott’s son, Frank, 67, at StoryCorps. “And he was in that car, he was doing his work. And as children we didn’t have that leisure time, you know, we couldn’t go to the playground. He said to us, ‘I need you at the garage.’ I can remember him getting injured, and he’d just take axle grease and put it in the cut and keep working.”
But Scott wasn’t allowed to race at certain speedways. When he planned to go to Atlanta, he even received death threats.
“Daddy said, ‘Look, if I leave in a pine box, that’s what I gotta do. But I’m gonna race,’ ” Frank says. “I can remember him racing in Jacksonville, and he beat them all, but they wouldn’t drop the checkered flag. And then when they did, they had my father in third place. One of the main reasons that they gave was there was a white beauty queen, and they always kissed the driver.”
“Did he ever consider not racing anymore?” asks Scott’s grandson, Warrick, 37.
“Never,” Frank says. “That was one of my daddy’s sayings: ‘When it’s too tough for everybody else, it’s just right for me.’ ”