Wendell Scott awarded Cup Series trophy after nearly 60 years
By ELIAS WEISS
Star-Tribune News Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — At the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach Saturday night, NASCAR properly honored Danville native Wendell Scott with a Cup Series trophy for becoming the first and only Black stock car driver to win a Cup Series race – a feat he achieved more than a half-century ago.
Scott won the Grand National at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, on Dec. 1, 1963. A tradition of racism at the time quashed Scott’s moment in the spotlight, as his name was never harked on Victory Lane and a trophy was never awarded.
A legend among legends
NASCAR legend Kyle Busch, the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and the 2015 and 2019 Cup Series champion, told the Star-Tribune it was an honor to start his engine at Daytona International Speedway on the night of such a momentous occasion for American stock car racing.
“I think it’s special to honor the heroes of our sport no matter how successful you are or how many races you’ve won,” Busch said. “Everybody here that’s been here, that’s been a part of our sport, has done something positive and has moved it on in the right direction. This is special for [Scott’s] family.”
Bubba Wallace, who drives the No. 23 Toyota Camry for 23XI Racing, is the only Black full-time Cup Series driver in 2021. Busch recalled a time when he and Wallace honored the legacy of Wendell Scott in Martinsville, Virginia, just outside of Danville.
“Bubba and myself, we did an honorary truck years ago in the Camping World Truck Series with the No. 34 on it, and Bubba was able to win that race at Martinsville and take those colors and our name with him to Victory Lane,” Busch recalled.
Scott famously sported No. 34 on his 1937 Ford passenger car, which returned to Danville in 2020. The iconic car, which served as the inspiration for River Scott in Disney Pixar’s film Cars 3, was transported to Daytona Beach this week and put on display in front of 55,000 fans at the Coke Zero 400.
“NASCAR is honored and delighted to have the family of Hall of Fame driver Wendell Scott here in Daytona as we celebrate the legacy of not only his historic win, but also the legacy of Wendell Scott and all the other things he brought to the sport,” said Brandon Thompson, NASCAR vice president of diversity and inclusion. “This is the trophy he should have received Dec. 1, 1963, after his historic win at the Jacksonville 200.”
Thompson said that it was through the passion shared by Wendell Scott’s son and grandson, Frank Scott and Warrick Scott, to make sure Wendell’s legacy endures through NASCAR, that Saturday night’s historic trophy presentation was possible.
“That historic moment was not celebrated the way it should have been,” Thompson said. “One of the most iconic and monumental moments in I daresay all of motorsports history was when Wendell Scott became the only Black driver to date to win a cup series race. On behalf of [NASCAR CEO] Steve Phelps, we are honored to continue to honor his legacy throughout the sport.”
Frank Scott, Wendell’s son, was the one to accept the cup in front of a roaring crowd and flanked by family members.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be here this weekend for this historical moment in time,” Frank said. “I grew up at Daytona as a child and came here throughout my father’s racing career. It’s good to be back at this historic place.”
Like Busch, Frank has also worked with Bubba Wallace to help NASCAR use its “Drive for Diversity'' as a tool to expand its already massive base of 75 million fans.
“My father would be most proud of what Bubba has accomplished,” Frank said. “My father said, ‘You have to cut your roots first,’ and Bubba has done that. He started in the lower divisions and worked his way up.”
Just before the race, Frank added, “This is one of his favorite tracks. I really hope that he will get the checkered flag.”
Warrick echoed his father’s sentiment, noting similarities between Wallace and himself.
“My relationship with Bubba is amazing. He comes from a wonderful family...he is someone I’ve known for quite a while and we always pull for him in everything that he does,” Warrick said. “It is not easy being him as a man, and being similar in age, I can understand a great deal of what he goes through.”
Wallace, an Alabama native, has been the only full-time Black driver in any of NASCAR's three national series (Cup, Xfinity and Truck) in each of his years competing at the highest level. And as the only Black driver to win more than once in any of these series, he is considered among the ranks of Wendell Scott on the list of most successful Black drivers in the history of NASCAR.
“It has been wonderful for me watching him mature and watch him turn into what he’s become,” Warrick said. “What it means to African-American community is paramount. He is an American legend himself. I love how he competes and also how he shares his passions with his followers. It is a really good thing for him, I stand with him in solidarity.”
Warrick, however, noted that there are many differences between Wallace and Wendell. Comparing them based on skin color alone – something he sees a lot in the NASCAR community – is not helping move the conversation forward, he said.
“I don’t like when people do loose comparisons between him and my grandfather,” Warrick said, “but his character is world-class and that’s how you make a champion.”
At Saturday's race, Wallace came in second – his best finish of the season.
A trophy in Daytona Beach
Even on his deathbed in 1990, Wendell Scott maintained he would see justice one day, even if postmortem.
“My father earned it. It was something that he labored on. He always wanted to get his trophy and predicted he would get it one day,” Frank said. “He said, ‘I may not be here with y’all, but one day, I’ll get my trophy.’”
The trophy brandishes the No. 34 at the top and lists four names as recipients: his sons, Frank Scott and Wendell Scott Jr., and fellow Danville residents Dick Chaney and James Robinson. Chaney and Robinson were the only team members Wendell had with him when the checkered flag waved in North Florida 58 years ago.
“The trophy is a tangible artifact that will be a point of inspiration for untold amounts of people going forward,” Warrick said. “The trophy symbolizes his legacy of perseverance. For myself, when I lecture at colleges and things of that nature, now I don’t have to say, ‘But we never got the trophy.’”
Because it was a Black driver who won the Jacksonville 200 in 1963, a trophy was never fabricated.
“It is certainly a trophy that was custom built for the occasion,” Thompson said. “We partnered with Jostens to be able to create this trophy.”
Although the trophy will come to rest in the River City, NASCAR officials say Daytona is the perfect place to right the wrong perpetrated by the association in the Civil Rights Era’s late years.
“This is the world center of racing, and this is the regular season finale,” Thompson said. “The fact that Jacksonville is a stone’s throw from where we stand here today – what a way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Wendell Scott.”
Born in 1921, Wendell Scott would have turned 100 years old on Sunday, Aug. 29, just one day after the Coke Zero 400.
“A lot of other things and a lot of other factors went into it, too,” Thompson said. “All the stars aligned that this would be the place to make it happen.”
Since NASCAR announced the trophy presentation earlier this summer, the Scott family underwent criticism and speculation. Some questioned why the family would fight so hard for something so distant in the past.
“We know that at the end of the day, particularly during Wendell’s era but even now, one of the reasons these drivers strap in every week is for the lure of a trophy,” Thompson said. “He absolutely earned that trophy.”
“A true wheelman”
So it would come to pass that in “World’s Most Famous Beach” on a warm summer night in 2021, Wendell Scott’s family would reap the reward of Wendell’s tireless work building a nationally competitive stock car from scratch. It was a regular passenger car, to which he added suspension, a motor and everything else it took to compete on a dirt track. The only paved tracks at the time were inaccessible to Black drivers.
“I raced legend cars, and we raced our legend cars off of his exact model,” said Rob Sumbler, a Winter Haven, Florida, resident and diehard NASCAR fan who attended Saturday’s regular season finale. “I’ve been following NASCAR for a long, long time, and I know Wendell Scott actually earned every inch he ever had. Wendell Scott was an amazing driver. I shed a tear when they presented that trophy.”
Sumbler called Scott “a real wheelman,” whom he emulated his own amateur racing career after.
“Tonight, it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Sumbler said. “It’s just awesome.”
Long before the Jacksonville 200, Wendell would win his first race at the Natural Bridge Speedway in 1954 in his ‘37 Ford.
"He actually raced this car on Daytona Beach, when they would run two miles down the beach, two miles up on the highway, then come back onto the track. It was a legendary track before they built the International Speedway back in 1959," Frank recollected. "He raced in this car 400 or 500 times before he entered the Cup Series in 1961. But this car is historic because it's the first one he ever built."
In Wendell's typical circuit, a usual race would see 75-90 cars competing. The worst Wendell ever finished was 33rd.
"He was a genius," Frank said. "He compensated for a lack of horsepower with his driving skills."
Cup Series driver Kyle Larson, who drives the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Hendrick Motorsports, raced in the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday. Larson overcame his own personal battle with racism after he said the n-word on a livestream during a virtual race in April 2020.
Credit One Bank, Fiserv and McDonald’s, all companies that sponsored Laron, terminated their sponsorship deals immediately after the livestream, and Chevrolet suspended its personal services relationship with the Northern California native. On Saturday night, after completing sensitivity training and returning to the circuit under new sponsorship, Larson told the Star-Tribune he wouldn’t miss the historic event.
“I think it’s awesome that they are finally honoring him,” Larson said. “It is cool that they’re doing it in front of a great crowd in Daytona. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Larson would go on to win the 2021 Cup Series Regular Season Championship after finishing the Coke Zero 400 in 20th place. He won five races this season.
Chase Elliott, the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year and 2020 Cup Series champion, has 13 career wins in the Cup Series, including seven on road courses. He also won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Even as the modern king of NASCAR, amid dominating the Cup Series circuit, Elliott told the Star-Tribune he was thrilled to hit the pavement just minutes after the Scott family stamped its place once again in the NASCAR history books.
“I absolutely think it’s great,” Elliott said. “He had a huge role in sports history. It’s a race he deserves to be recognized for.”
For Frank, overcoming racism is a fluid process that takes time. He’s just happy to see the efforts being made by the league.
“NASCAR is holding true to what they said they were going to do,” he said. “You’re going to build a building one brick at a time and that’s what they’re doing. Even in my acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame in 2015, I mentioned the fact that I was pleased that NASCAR was doing so much in terms of reaching for diversity. I think it is a good indication that they’re headed in the right direction and we’re not going to let any negativity distract us from what this moment is.”
Between its Drive for Diversity program and appointing leaders like Thompson, who became NASCAR’s first diversity and inclusion VP just last year, the association’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“I see the growth in NASCAR, the growth in diversity that exists,” Frank said. “This is something that will lay a solid foundation to build on – this is the one thing that we got right. When you learn better, you do better.”
While he is enthusiastic, however, Frank said he is not stuck in the past.
“Put your path forward like my father did. He was a legendary driver, car owner, call builder and great humanitarian,” he said. “This is important because it will help reinforce those who might have questions about the sport. It is an excellent avenue to use.”
It all comes back to Virginia
While the Scotts made their presence felt in Daytona Beach this weekend, the trophy presentation ultimately is a triumph for the City of Danville and Southside Virginia.
“I was thrilled to hear that NASCAR plans to honor Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, by presenting the Scott family with a trophy for his 1963 win at the Grand National Series race,” said Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones. “Danville is proud of our hometown hero and I am so pleased that he is getting this overdue and well-deserved recognition.”
A fellow Virginia native, Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin told the newspaper the ceremony was long overdue. Hamlin, who drives the No. 54 Toyota Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing, has won 44 NASCAR Cup Series races, including the Daytona 500 in 2016, 2019 and 2020. In 2020, he became the fourth person to win the race in back-to-back seasons, joining Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin.
“It’s great for him and his family to get some redemption even though it’s a long time removed,” Hamlin said. “I think we owe that gesture to him to let him celebrate his well-earned victory.”
Frank Scott is excited to see the mint family artifact become a linchpin of the Danville community.
“As we traveled across this great nation, my father was always proud to say that he was from Danville, Virginia,” Frank reflected. “A lot of other professional athletes that make it big claim the next largest city. If they was from Podunk, they said they was from Big River. But my father was proud of where he was from. He was encouraged to move to California, but he said, ‘No, I’m going to stay in Danville. I’m going to stay home.”
When motorists cross from North Carolina into Virginia on U.S. Highway 29, they drive onto Wendell O. Scott Senior Memorial Highway. As hundreds of thousands of folks drive the 5-mile stretch of Highway 29 every year, Frank said, it’s a reminder why Wendell refused to leave his homestead in the River City.
“I have a profound pride to be from Danville and that’s the reason we located the Wendell Scott Foundation there,” added Warrick. “Like Frank said, we have had opportunities to headquarter in larger cities, but our passion and our mission remains to support the Southside first. Naturally as our mission scales, we do great work in other localities, but everything we do comes back home just like the trophy will and that adds additional value to our area.”
The Wendell Scott Foundation is a national, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) established to commemorate the legacy of Wendell Scott. The foundation's mission of using educational attainment to end racial disparities in education and health is vital in addressing economic inequality and improving future success in African-American communities by addressing the need to expose youth to STEM-based educational opportunities and cultural enrichment activities that historically have not been assessed in the Black community.
“It is going to be housed in Danville for the kids,” Warrick said. “They know the Wendell Scott story, and bringing the trophy home, this is a happy ending to the story. The incubator will always be Danville.”
The Wendell Scott Foundation provides mentoring, job skill training, college preparedness, educational opportunities and supportive services to at-risk, underserved youth between 8 and 23 years of age. The foundation also strives to make certain that Wendell Scott’s determination to accomplish goals despite all challenges will be carried on among the lives it serves.
“Wendell Scott built the ultimate bridge for diversity, not just in the sport, but in the minds and ideologies of people who didn’t know how to share a space together,” Warrick said. “We are blessed to continue to be the catalyst for that. Any grandparent would want to see fruitful things take place in the lives of their grandchildren, so I keep that in mind every step I take in regards to this. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to build out this understanding relationship with NASCAR.”
With this in mind, Warrick based his decisions surrounding the Wendell Scott Foundation, of which he is the CEO, around one titular question: What would Wendell Scott do?
“Wendell Scott’s legacy as a man is rooted in community and outreach,” Warrick said. “After the work we’ve been doing for so many years, this moment crystalizes that all things are possible.”
Warrick added that his next objective is to open the Wendell Scott Center and Museum in Danville. The museum would house such artifacts as Scott’s original racecar and his newly-instated Cup Series trophy, as well as serve as an education and community center for the city.
“This is where you’ll find the trophy and many artifacts of his legendary career,” Warrick said. “Wendell Scott was 100 percent Danville, Virginia, his whole life.”
For Warrick, it is crucial that the trophy not only comes to rest in Danville, but that it is accessible to the community.
“You can come see it and view it and be a part of it,” he said. “In a lot of ways, it’s rather poetic. It’s happening now with social media and pushing a signal out. He did not get recognition in the moment in Jacksonville that day. This is something that puts a band aid on that and lets it heal.”
After death, never defeated
If Wendell Scott was alive today, he would not harbor bitterness at the prospect of receiving his trophy nearly 60 years late. He would only be thankful, Frank said.
“We never dwell on anything negative,” he said. “My father didn’t allow any negative remarks. In our garage sometimes, people would make comments about, ‘You’ll never outrun this driver.’ He would put them out of the garage and tell them not to come back. He was just a great man of determination. He loved racing almost as much as he loved us.”
Warrick said he learned his structure of pride, ethics and morals from a childhood spent with his grandfather, and laments his time with Wendell was so fleeting.
“My grandfather passed away when I was 13 years old. I was with him primarily every day multiple times a day up to that point,” Warrick said. “Like my dad said, he predicted all these things to happen, but like any dedicated grandson that thinks of his grandfather like Superman, I always remember how he felt when he shared these things with me.”
Although it took decades, Scott’s dream has finally permeated stock car racing at the national, or maybe even international level.
“Not only was this his dream, but we feel this is the organization’s dream now, and that’s where the paradigm shifted,” Warrick said. “This moment is a great teaching tool and a great learning resource on so many different levels. As we talk about this moment, we’ll be sure to talk about the education and healing component behind this moment.”
Frank thanked Thompson for the resolute effort he effectuated in righting a wrong that many Americans simply forgot over generations.
“It’s been a long wait, but there is nothing you can do about it,” he said. “What we have to do is move forward and live from this day forward. It was frustrating sometimes, but I have to give kudos to Brandon. He and his whole team have been instrumental in making this happen. It hasn’t been easy for him either. It has been tough, but it’s finally happening.”
Thompson concluded by saying this is just one of many steps NASCAR will take to achieve the diversity and inclusivity it strives for to thrive in America in the 2020s and beyond.
“We are excited and aware that the Wendell Scott legacy extends to all and certainly is a testament to the things that are possible when you work hard and don’t let anyone detract from your dreams,” Thompson stated. “When you look at Drive for Diversity, it’s meant to continue the legacy that Wendell and so many others from back in that era started. We are excited to know and are aware of the impact this could have and look for that impact to continue.”
NASCAR legend Joey Logano, who drives the No. 22 Ford Mustang GT for Team Penske, was the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion. He told the Star-Tribune he couldn’t imagine being stripped of his victories, and was relieved to hear NASCAR was making things right at long last.
“It’s a great thing. I think we’re all in favor of being treated equally, that’s the bottom line to this whole thing in my opinion,” Logano said. “No matter what your skin color is, you should never be treated differently because of that. I think that’s a great thing to honor that and what he has done for our sport and what he is doing for our sport today, not even knowing it. That heritage he left behind, his mission he has continued over time – that’s pretty cool.”
Frank closed with a powerful and timeless quote from his father.
“He always said: ‘Just because I lose a race, that doesn’t mean I’m defeated.’”
The Wendell Scott Foundation will also be hosting its signature annual fundraiser, the Legacy Gala, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 4, 2021. This event celebrates the 58th anniversary of Wendell Scott's first NASCAR victory.
More information will be announced in the weeks and months to come, and updates will be provided in the Star-Tribune as well as on the Wendell Scott Foundation's social media accounts.