I was six years old when it happened and, living in Pennsylvania I didn’t see the race, but surely read about it. A black driver in NASCAR wins a race—but doesn’t get to celebrate in victory lane. Figures, yes? Wendell Scott had to deal with these ancient prejudices his entire life, but toward the end he might’ve understood that some people knew he was a tough, hard-nosed driver who would’ve won a lot more if not for a lack of money. He actually won the race, but Buck Baker was declared the winner at the time. Only later did NASCAR acknowledge Baker hadn’t in fact won. I’ve heard more than a few people say in the ensuing years they imagined the fans would riot if Scott had been flagged the winner.
This of course short-circuits my wiring. Under the helmet there is no color, no gender, no sexual orientation (and if you think there’s never been a gay NASCAR driver [forget about Jeff Gordon, homophobe fans], just let me remind you that one out of every ten of us is gay; that makes just about four gay drivers in every Cup field, so deal with that, homophobes), no nothing—except the driver’s talent, car control, and the way the vehicle is operating at that time. Of course, none of that mattered to bigots in the stands. Scott never, never got the break he deserved so much: a top-flight Cup ride.
Here you’ll find Ryan McGee’s brilliant take on Scott’s career. Imagine this: you win the Sunshine 200, but at first you’re denied the victory. You expect that you’ll be vindicated. And so you are, days later. The trophy queen of course is long gone (and, oh yeah, the idea of a white woman kissing the [black] winner of the race might’ve been frowned upon just a bit by bigots in the stands, but then again, what happened when Scott won all those short-track “outlaw” races? I wonder what the protocol was like then—). Oh, and so is the trophy. Scott never received it.
I have one story about Scott, because I got to meet him at—ironically enough—Sunshine Speedway in St. Petersburg, FL. He was driving the blue Camaro beside which he poses in the first link. He hated that car; it was built by Jim Gray, a Florida driver and builder well-liked in the racing community, but it just would not handle. I watched that car all day in practice, and from this distance it seems like the problem was in geometry, but never mind—Scott couldn’t make that car work worth a damn. Kyle Busch couldn’t have done any better, by the way. At any rate, since it was Gulfcoast Classic Saturday and all the stars were there, I wandered into the pits and there was Wendell Scott working like hell. I waited until he was finished with what he was doing, and stuck out my hand. “Sir, thank you for coming.” “Well, they paid me,” he said. Suddenly I was glad they had. He was my idea of a race-car driver—thoroughly committed to the job at hand.