Since I am the family “resident expert” on sports, one of my knuckleheads hit me with the question, “Have there been any African Americans in NASCAR?” This question came about right before the running of the Daytona 500 (The NASCAR equivalent of the Super Bowl). I took the kids on a tour of Black-American firsts in the field of sports.
I repeated my coverage of Teddy Rhodes and Lee Elder in golf, Marion Motley in football, and was thrown for a minute into the early days of modern football. Motley was not a familiar name, and inquisitive minds need to know. Marion Motley was a fullback with the Cleveland Browns. He was known for his speed and his massive size. He was 6-foot-1-inch tall and 238 pounds. In those days, this was massive for some linemen. I especially enjoyed the fact that linebackers and safeties knew that when they tackled the big fellow under steam they were in for a bad day and a week of healing.
The story of Jackie Robinson has been so misreported that it sounds like a fairy tale. However, they knew the story and as is the custom of bright kids, they wanted more. I am in the on-again-off-again story of the heroes of the Negro Leagues, and they are restless waiting for more. Now I am being tasked to explain African-American participation in NASCAR.
Back in the day, moonshine was the drink of choice among hill folks. The shine makers would create these concoctions back in the woods in a hidden still. When the product was finished, the shine runners would load up their fast cars with special tanks and make the deliveries. These cars had to be fast to out run the federal police, who were intent on shutting down operations because this booze was being sold with no tax stamp.
With these fast cars in the same general area, it was not uncommon for a bunch of guys sitting on the porch on a Saturday night to brag on their cars being the fastest. From these encounters sprung the idea of racing them to declare a winner. A few entrepreneurs bought some pasture land, carved out a circle and let them race for a prize.
Then, along came Wendell Scott, who had returned from the Army to his home in Danville, Va. Fast cars were nothing new to Wendell, so he fought his way into the “Good ole Boy” network and began to deliver moonshine. He gravitated to the race tracks and underwent the Jim Crow attitude that was a part of the landscape. He won steak dinners, which he never got to eat, and he won trophies that he never collected. He did, however, win enough to be recognized as a force not to be ignored.
After recovering from a horrific crash, he built a car from junkyard parts and went on to win the Grand National, which was the equivalent of the modern day Daytona 500. With this victory, Wendell Scott took his place among the NASCAR greats and will always be remembered in history.