News & Media

Scott's story one of triumph over adversity

February 03, 2011, Rick Houston, Special to NASCAR.COM,

"Wendell Scott: A Race Story" is a docudrama detailing the life of the only black driver to win a race in NASCAR's top series. Produced by NASCAR Media Group in conjunction with ESPN Films and Max Siegel Inc., the film premiered Thursday with a special screening at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It airs nationally on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Feb. 20, just hours after the Daytona 500. For more information, click here.

Walk a mile in Wendell Scott's shoes, that's all.

Feel what it was like to be a black man in the deepest parts of the Jim Crow South, trying to make a go of it in a white man's sport. Understand how a driver so full of pride could be so thoroughly humbled time after heartbreaking time. Marvel at how his family overcame what would seem to be such an unfair fate.

" I just appreciated what he was trying to do."


Wendell Scott: A Race Story hammers home those emotions and more. And while various points in Scott's life are re-enacted throughout the project, make no mistake about it: This is no Greased Lightning, the 1977 movie starring Richard Pryor that was loosely based on Scott's life.

That movie concludes with Scott coming back from a life-threatening accident to win a big race at what is now known as Atlanta Motor Speedway, and that's just not the way Scott's career turned out. In a very real sense, the Hollywood ending cheapens Scott's legacy a great deal. There is triumph in A Race Story, but it takes place for the most part off the track. There is triumph in how he handled himself in the face of adversity. It's there in the lives led by his wife and children.

It's there in stories like this one.

After stints as a moonshine runner and taxicab driver, Scott made his first Grand National appearance in 1961. A year later, he ran at Darlington Raceway and afterward attempted to a join a line of lesser-funded drivers who were receiving $150-200 from then-track president Bob Colvin to make the trip back home. Scott didn't get the money.

"When my turn came at the window, Bob Colvin looked up and said, 'N-----, you better get yo' ass back up that road,'" Scott told Ed Hinton of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution in a story that was summarized in the March 27, 1986 issue of Grand National Scene. "I walked away."

That incident would've been bad enough had it been an anomaly, but as A Race Story so vividly portrays, such treatment took place on an almost regular basis. That he was able to cope with such injustices is a far better measure of the man than what he did once the green flag flew.

"For the most part, my father was there to race," said Sybil Scott, the youngest daughter of Scott's seven children who regularly served as his scorekeeper. "He was there to support his family. He was there to please his fans. He just had the type of personality where you had almost had to back Daddy against the wall [for him to be] fighting for himself.

"But, at all times, Daddy was a real man. He would stand up for himself. It's just that there are so many things in life that you can turn your other cheek to, and continue with what you're trying to do. He just happened to be the type of person that did not overreact. He did not often react, to where other people would see a negative-type response from him."

For all the cruelty Scott encountered along the way, there also were many kindnesses. Once, when a race in Raleigh, N.C., was rained out, every driver but Scott received $15 in tow money. At the very next event, Scott told NASCAR founder Bill France what had happened.

"He took not $15 but $25 out of his own pocket, handed it to me and said, 'You are a NASCAR member and as of now you will be treated as a NASCAR member,'" Scott said in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

Ned Jarrett is interviewed in A Race Story; in fact, the only time Scott's own voice is heard in the project is during a conversation the two men had in what appears to be the 1980s. It's an utterly striking clip because in it, Scott quietly insists he would still like to drive, if given the chance.

After Jarrett won the 1961 Grand National championship, he sold Scott one of his cars. Jarrett built new cars the next year, and Scott wound up buying one of those, too. Scott managed to get financing through a bank, but once it finally came through, needed help getting to a race in Riverside, Calif.

"He came down and got the car, and when he got here, he said, 'I know I've asked a lot of you already. You let me have this car on a man's word, but I don't have the money to get out there with. Would there be any chance you could lend me $500 to get to Riverside?' " Jarrett recalled. "And I did. I loaned him $500 to go out there. I didn't have the money. I was living on borrowed money myself, but I just appreciated what he was trying to do."

On yet another occasion, Jarrett spoke on Scott's behalf during a lunch with Lee Iacocca, at the time a Ford Motor Co. vice president.

"He asked me at lunch that day, 'Are there any black drivers in racing?' " Jarrett remembered. "I told him about Wendell. He said, 'How does he do?' I said, 'Well, he doesn't have the equipment to do as well as I think he could do. Some manufacturer is missing the boat by not helping that man out.' "

The next day, John Moody got a call to get a car ready for Scott. It wasn't the best car in the famed Holman Moody fleet, but it was better than anything Scott could manage on his own. For most of the rest of his career, Scott was behind the wheel of a Ford.

France and Jarrett were not alone in giving Scott a helping hand at a time and place when doing so wasn't the popular -- or politically correct -- thing to do. Fans, Sybil Scott says, came to the forefront to the "least of things and greatest of things" for her father.

"You had people who made sure that there was somewhere for us to sleep in a safe environment when we were traveling," Sybil Scott said. "People fixed meals for us. There's inspirational fan mail that we still get. Other drivers befriended Daddy.

"I speak of things that people did for Daddy ... Daddy did things to help other people. That's important for the younger generation coming up to know. He wasn't just there with his hand out."

Scott passed away Dec. 23, 1990, after a long bout with spinal cancer. Right up to the very end, hearing of the hope Scott had given others meant the world to the Danville, Va., native.

"I remember when my dad was so sick, I would read him fan mail and see the joy that he got from knowing he had actually touched someone and that there were so many people who saw him for what he really was," Sybil Scott said.

He was, in fact, a father ... a husband ... a mechanic ... a racer. Most of all, though, he was a man.