Paving the way: How Danville native Wendell Scott blazed a trail for African Americans in NASCAR

“The threat of racism or the violence that came with that was always there. "

Danville native Wendell Scott started his engine more than 50 years ago, aiming to not only drive his car but drive home change.

DANVILLE, Va. – Bubba Wallace has become a lightning rod for change in NASCAR.

With social justice and equality at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the 26-year-old driver called for NASCAR to ban the display of Confederate flags at race tracks.

A bold move for the only African-American driver at the Cup Series level-- but not the first.

Danville native Wendell Scott started his engine more than 50 years ago, aiming to not only drive his car but drive home change.

“He was a wonderful father, wonderful grandfather. His mission was to always try and impact the community,” said Warrick Scott, the grandson of the late Wendell Scott.

After racing in smaller circuits, Wendell Scott made it to NASCAR’s highest series, the Grand National, in the early 1960s and three years later, he became the first African American to win a NASCAR race. But it came with a price.

“The threat of racism or the violence that came with that was always there. He wasn’t given the trophy at that time and he wasn’t given the prize money until all the fans and spectators left,” Warrick explained.

He said Wallace’s efforts to try and steer change are honorable, but not his alone.

Wendell Scott's grandson Warrick says Bubba Wallace's efforts to fight for change in NASCAR are honorable but not his alone. (WSLS)

“In my opinion, it should be a shared responsibility, especially amongst those in the NASCAR community, that have existed successfully that are African American,” said Warrick.

Despite facing severe racism throughout his career, Scott never let that knock him off the track. And though acknowledgments were few and far between, there was no denying his impact and legacy in the sport. Thus, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

“His intestinal fortitude has placed him among the greatest to ever compete in the sport he loved-- racing,” said Franklin Scott in 2015 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Franklin is one of Wendell Scott’s sons.

Franklin Scott speaking at the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction in Charlotte, North Carolina (WSLS)

Scott’s legacy was bigger than what he did on the track.

His family said it was his goal early in life to give back to the community. That’s the mission they carry out with the Wendell Scott Foundation-- providing educational and cultural resources to the greater Danville area.

“With the climate and way things are, with education being defunded at times, it’s important to come up with creative ways to get out to the community to help the youth,” said Chinique Scott, the executive director of the foundation.

They offer mentoring, a steering to STEM program and Camp Cultivation-- resources that have benefited Reginald Jeffries, an assistant for the foundation and current student at Virginia State University.

“I had the opportunity to become a mentor to work with more at-risk kids to help get them on the right path, positive stretch to allow them to change their lives as well. You can’t swim standing on the bank so you might as well jump in,” Jeffries said.

Jumping in, fueling up and driving home the mission that the great Wendell Scott sought to fulfill.

Wendell Scott paved a way for African Americans in NASCAR decades ago despite facing brutal racism (WSLS)

“For so many drivers, for so many athletes, when they’re inducted into the Hall of Fame, their legacy-- that’s where it goes, that’s where it stays. Wendell Scott Foundation has formed a platform where his legacy will be able to continue to live and breathe each day,” said Warrick Scott.

Watch our full interview with Warrick Scott:

About the Author:

Eric is no stranger to the Roanoke Valley. He is a Roanoke native and proud graduate of William Fleming High School.