Trailblazer Wendell Scott gets his place in Hall
May 21, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Wendell Scott, to date the only African-American to win a NASCAR race in its top division, is now the first to be selected for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The Danville, Virginia, native received 58 percent of the vote cast by the Hall of Fame voting panel during its annual closed-door session Wednesday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Only 1988 series champion Bill Elliott, with 87 percent, received more votes among the five inductees chosen for the 2015 class.
The new class, the sixth since the Hall opened, is scheduled for induction Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.
Scott, a taxi driver by trade, competed at NASCAR's top level from 1961 through 1973, scoring his milestone victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964. He ended his career with 20 top-five and 147 top-10 results. From 1966 through 1969 he finished no worse than 10th in points and as high as sixth.
He raced with hand-me-down parts and used inventory, often provided by fellow competitors or purchased at generous rates, while doing most of the work on his car himself. He was, at times, driver, owner, crew chief and pit crew.
Even in victory, Scott, who died in 1990, felt the sting of racism. He was denied the winner's circle celebration in Jacksonville for fear of adverse fan reaction.
Yet for reasons likely known only to him, Scott's desire to compete never waned.
Family members in attendance Wednesday shouted joyfully as NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France announced Scott's name during a press conference in the Hall of Fame's Great Hall. There were tears and hugs as well as sighs of relief.
Scott's name had appeared on the list of nominees for 2013 and again for 2014. Both times he came up short when the votes were tallied, finishing outside the top nine the first year and eighth in voting for the 2014 class.
This time there was little doubt.
"A great day, an awesome day," daughter Sybil Scott said afterward.
"I don't take anything for granted but I felt pretty good about things. I kind of felt like it was his moment and that people making the decision probably felt that, too.
"I don't know if it had something to do with the desire to have it happen in my mom's lifetime had anything to do with what I was feeling so strongly, but I've just had kind of a calmness about me.
“Either way it went we had to roll with it; I felt like we were rolling this way today. Thank God it happened."
Wendell Scott won more than 100 local races while competing in and around the Danville region. Twenty-two victories came at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia, during the 1959 season, earning him the Sportsman Division and NASCAR Virginia Sportsman championships.
"I think it's a very significant statement," NASCAR President Mike Helton said of Scott's selection. "Not many people remember or probably will ever understand the challenges he went through to participate in this sport."
While there were others competing in the sport that faced various hurdles along the way, "I think his hurdles were taller and … more significant," Helton said. "For him to persevere and for his success as it was being relative to his efforts, I think it’s a tremendous statement.
"It's one that we all should embrace and will embrace, (and) will be something that we will be very proud of to talk about in January (at the induction ceremony)."
Sybil Scott said she understands those that might call into question her father's results on the race track and whether those results are Hall worthy. But at the same time, she said, she would ask that they look at the broader picture.
"With all due respect to them -- because everybody has a right to their opinion … I would challenge them to look at the other facts and the other qualifications and strides he made and the fact that it was a different era," she said. "The climate was so different that what has happened today, no one else will have to operate and strive and struggle under that particular climate.
"I respect that that was a sign of the times and I respect whoever feels that he didn't have the races won or other criteria that they feel that should have gotten him in. But I am thankful to those that made the final decision, that they opened up their minds and did their research and maybe opened up their hearts.
"Daddy was a builder of bridges. I truly believe that if it's meant to be, that they will see it for what it is -- it's such a special tribute to Daddy. There are a lot of deserving people out there -- everyone that's a nominee is deserving. And I'm honored that Daddy is going in with the group that he is -- how awesome is that?”