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Paying tribute to a pioneer
Marker honors Wendell Scott
A historical marker, commissioned by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to honor the late NASCAR driver Wendell Scott Sr., was unveiled Friday at Scott’s former home at 118 Wendell Scott Drive in Danville.
The legacy of International Racing Hall of Famer Wendell O. Scott Sr. was honored Friday with a state historical marker that pays tribute to Scott’s achievements as stock car racing’s first African-American driver.
Scott’s family also was honored Saturday at the Martinsville Speedway.
Scott became the first black winner of a race in what now is called the Sprint Cup Series when he passed Richard Petty on Dec. 1, 1963, to win a race in Jacksonville, Fla., by two laps. However, Scott was not announced as the winner until the next day and his family did not receive the trophy for winning the race until 20 years after his death.
Scott’s son, Wendell Jr. said the historic marker in front of the Scott home at 118 Wendell Scott Drive in Danville is “a culmination of what needed to happen.” The street was renamed by the Danville City Council for Scott in 1997.
The marker states, “Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR, with a 13-year career that included 20 top five and 147 top ten finishes.”
Scott died in 1990. Although his father is remembered for his one major win, Wendell Scott Jr. pointed out that his father won a total of 128 races during his career and was the NASCAR Sportsman Division Virginia champion in 1959. “We already knew how to win,” he said. “The 128 victories by one man over everybody else shouldn’t be overlooked.”
Scott Sr. was no stranger to Henry County. He raced at the Martinsville Speedway, and he often attended Laurel Park High School basketball games when his son, Frank, was the team’s coach.
NASCAR President Mike Helton said it was important to “remember to honor people like Wendell Scott” for all they did for auto racing and civil rights in America. Helton, a native Virginian, said he was proud to be involved in an event celebrating both cultural and motorsports history.
“Virginia is very deep, not only in American History, but also in NASCAR,” he said. “And we’re very proud of that.”
Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders told of bringing his 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle to Scott when it wasn’t running properly, thinking one of the spark plugs were not firing. Scott, who served as a mechanic in the Army in World War II, quickly fixed the problem, Saunders said. When Saunders asked what was wrong, he said Scott told him, “if I tell you, you might not come back for more service.”
“To this day, I still don’t know what he did,” Saunders said.
Scott’s garage in Danville was known as “The Shop,” said Wendell Scott Jr. “All the men in Danville used it as an excuse,” he said. “‘I stopped by the shop. Wendell needed me,’” many men used to say, according to Scott. “Wendell didn’t need anybody, really.”
Wendell Scott Jr. noted that despite the fact that his father still is the only African-American to win a major NASCAR race, his legacy still is seen in the Sprint Cup Series.
“When you see Danica Patrick, that’s an image of Daddy, really,” he said. Patrick, who won the pole for this year’s Daytona 500, is the first woman to win a pole for a Sprint Cup race.
Frank Scott, who taught and coached basketball at Laurel Park High School, pointed out Friday that his father had rules against using the word “can’t” in the Scott house.
“My father had those steel grayish (eyes),” he said. “When he got upset, those eyes would get really dark.”
Whenever someone would say they couldn’t do something, he said Wendell would look at them and say, “get up and come back when you get your mind right.”
Frank Scott later kept a sign outlawing use of the word “can’t” in his office at Laurel Park High School, and his father often would attend his basketball games. When a student would use the word, Frank Scott would tell them the same thing his father used to say: “Come back when you get your mind right.”
Several cars driven by Scott were on display at the home, and Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders declared Friday Wendell Scott Day.