BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Bubba Wallace’s historic win at Talladega this week was a milestone for the sport, but it wasn’t the first time a Black driver has won a top NASCAR race. Before Bubba Wallace, there was Wendell Scott.
Decades before Wallace’s win, Wendell Scott was a staple in the sport. Scott competed in around 500 NASCAR races, placing in the top ten around 150 times. In December 1963, he became the first Black driver to ever win a premier race.
Frank and Warrick Scott, Wendell’s son and grandson, spoke with CBS 42’s Lee Hedgepeth Tuesday about Bubba Wallace’s win at Talladega, diversity in NASCAR, and the legacy of Wendell Scott.
Frank Scott said that Bubba Wallace’s win was a success for not just Wallace, but for the sport and for those who love it.
“It was amazing and a joyful day for us,” he said. “We were so elated that he was able to reach that milestone in his career… I know my father would be very happy that he won the race, and we were happy for him on this end.”
Warrick Scott said he was happy to share the moment with his family.
“I was watching the race with my wife and my sons,” he said. “They are very much aware of the legacy of which they come, but also of Bubba and his legacy as well. So it was really cool to share that moment with them, and as a grandson, it had been a moment that I had been waiting for my entire life. And so I was very, very glad that he was able to take a checkered flag.“
Bubba Wallace’s win in Talladega wasn’t without controversy. His success came after the event was ended prematurely due to rain, leading a few vocal critics to say that the victory wasn’t legitimate. Unfounded criticism of a minority driver, though, isn’t unprecedented. The Scott family knows this well.
Like with Wallace’s triumph on the track, when Wendell Scott won the day in Jacksonville in 1963, he wasn’t given his due.
“My father knew he won the race,” Frank Scott said. “If you’re racing, you know how many times you pass the person. He was two laps ahead of the field.”
As Wendell Scott rounded the track, he waited for the checkered flag that would signal his win. It never came.
“Someone else got a checkered flag,” his son explained. “That was quite a disappointment for him on that day.”
Scott was forced to protest the results. While officials confirmed he had won the race, they claimed his trophy had been lost during the scoring dispute. It wasn’t until earlier this year, decades after Wendell Scott’s win in Jacksonville, that his family would be awarded the trophy.
The Scott family can hear echoes of that attitude — the willingness to put an asterisk next to the successes on African Americans — in the criticisms of Bubba Wallace’s win at Talladega.
“When people start talking like that,” Frank Scott said, “they need to do their research and give this young man some credit for what he accomplished.”
“It says more about them than it does about Bubba or someone who understands the gravity of the moment,” Warrick Scott said. “Any NASCAR fan that would long for the years of no African-American winning in the sport or being a major entity in the sport — anyone who considers yourself to be a fan, in my humble opinion, you’re not so much a fan of NASCAR as much as you are a fan of systematic oppression that’s taken place over the course of many, many, many years.”
Warrick said that Bubba, Denny, Chase — none of the players — made the rules. They operate within the rules.
“Someone had to be in first place when the race ended,” he said.
Frank and Warrick Scott also reflected on why it took so long for a second African-American driver to reach the heights of the sport to the extent that Wendell Scott had.
Frank Scott said it starts with one thing: opportunity.
“Opportunity hasn’t always been there,” he said. “It’s only in recent years that minorities have had the opportunity to race at the cup level with the type of equipment it takes to win.”
Warrick Scott echoed his father’s sentiments and said that the Wendell Scott Foundation, of which he is the CEO, is working on improving the pipeline into the sport and into other industries.
The Scotts said that NASCAR also has a role to play in increasing diversity in the sport.
“I think they’re evolving, and I think they realize they need to do more. And I think they’re going to do more,” Frank Scott said. He pointed out that when the Confederate flag was banned from races, some of the first drivers to speak out in support were white.
“I was honored that Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon both made their support of the ban, even before Bubba Wallace made his comments,” Scott said.
Warrick said that NASCAR has made the first steps towards making the sport more inclusive, but accomplishing that goal takes a marathon, not just a few steps.
“And so anybody who feels like more should be done and feels like, it’s not going fast enough, I will say to them, you have to start somewhere,” he said. “And as far as the icky feeling of being discriminated against… I don’t think anybody would be more qualified to speak to what that feeling is or how to remedy that feeling other than us, especially within this sport. We are the first African-American family of NASCAR. We’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly. But but but the season that we are in now is a good season. It’s not a bad season. It’s not an ugly season. It’s a good season.“
In the end, Frank and Warrick want Wendell Scott to be remembered not just as a NASCAR legend, though he was. They don’t simply want him to be remembered as a master mechanic, though he was. When someone thinks of Wendell Scott, his son and grandson want people to remember, too, that he was a great humanitarian – a man always willing to lend a helping hand.
“I remember one Christmas Eve, a lady came by the garage,” Frank Scott said. “She had some relatives coming to town. She didn’t have any money. She was telling him that she didn’t have any food at the house. And I remember him reaching in his coveralls. His money is dollar bills — always kind of greasy. And he gave her all his dollar bills and change. And so after she walked away, I said, ‘Dad, was that all the money you had?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that was all the money. But you know what? I can make some more. She can’t.”