Why it's now or never for Wendell Scott's legacy and NASCAR's revolution

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His grandfather Wendell was the first black driver in NASCAR and for Warrick Scott, the series has to face up to its ugly past

Wendell Scott

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“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” says Warrick Scott, the grandson of NASCAR’s first African-American driver, as he reflects on recent and ugly events unfolding in NASCAR, the US and rest of the world.

While today there is support for Bubba Wallace and his push back against racism within NASCAR, Wendell Scott endured racism, abuse and threats to his life for the entirety of his career throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Scott’s treatment after his Grand National victory in 1963 is something that NASCAR is yet to face up to to this day, according Warrick.

The race-winning trophy was handed to the white runner-up driver, Buck Baker, in front of the Deep South crowd. It wasn’t until hours later, once fans and media had left, that Wendell Scott was confirmed as the winner — by a two-lap margin.

Pleas by the Wendell Scott Foundation to have the trophy returned to the family have so far been unsuccessful. The silence has grown deafening in the face of recent events.

“The request I’m making is not just about the trophy from ’63, it is about the acknowledgement in the sport in totality, it’s about him receiving the proper recognition within the sport,” Warrick told Motor Sport.

“We haven’t had any response in regard to what I wrote. We haven’t had any. There’s nothing else to say. We haven’t received a phone call.

“The initial request was made in 2018. The request was not granted by NASCAR and so I chose to continue to be reengage it and to re-request it.”

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NASCAR declined to comment on the matter.

In the past weeks, the banning of the Confederate flag from all events and the support shown to Bubba Wallace have been seen as major steps in driving out racism from the current series. Warrick says that the return of the trophy would also acknowledge the wrongs of the past.

“What we say to NASCAR is, while they’re retooling things and getting things on a proper level, let’s make sure we do things properly with Wendell Scott. Wendell Scott’s legacy is about how you can bring about the most change within the culture of the sport.

“The opportunity or bridge to diversity in this sport was built by my grandfather and Scott Racing. All minorities walk across as they enter into that sport and that culture, and you see that now.

“Wendell Scott was a doer. His stance was go into that race every time they opened up the track, even though he knew the majority of people did not want him there and wanted to kill him or his sons or his daughters if they were caught in the wrong situation, and he knew that but he didn’t stop.”

Though he was eventually inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Scott’s legacy within the sport is rarely acknowledged. He broke barriers in an era when racism was not only rampant, but openly accepted, and those roots lie deep as Warrick explains.

“This is the moment it should happen. Bubba shouldn’t have to have to be doing all of the heavy lifting”

“The people that are upset about the confederate flag, the people that are struggling with life as they know changing, those that are pro-confederate flag, those people have been fans of NASCAR generationally.

“My grandfather’s legacy lives in the minds of those previous generations. Those are the generations of fans where they are getting the most aggressive pushback with regards to their evolution.

“It’s an entire separate subculture within the sport that my grandfather was able to successfully navigate within.

“Bring Wendell Scott’s legacy to the forefront of your revolution. I fear that without proper acknowledgement, history is doomed to repeat itself.”

WScott2

Scott began racing in modifieds before a stint in the NASCAR Grand National series. He experienced racism throughout

ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

As Scott broke down barriers in NASCAR decades ago, Bubba Wallace is now leading the fight against racism in the series.  NASCAR has come together to rally around Wallace in recent weeks, showing solidarity with the no43 driver in moving pre-race displays and messages of support on social media.

The campaign’s foundations were laid by Wendell Scott, says his grandson. “For the larger part of his career, he was a footnote in NASCAR history. It wasn’t until NASCAR decided to establish the NASCAR Hall of Fame that his name began to receive traction again.

“Even still, Lewis Hamilton, I just wish he would say my grandfather’s name. There’s gotta be a connector. Both these guys, Darrell and Lewis, are cut out of my grandfather’s mould and his image.”

Wallace’s poignant words in recent weeks have been met with support from fellow drivers, and Warrick believes that it could be a now or never situation for NASCAR to acknowledge its past, warning that meaningful change is slow to come.

“This is the moment it should happen. Bubba shouldn’t have to have to be doing all of the heavy lifting with regards to racism in the sport. That struggle and those stances have taken place before he even entered the sport, and as long as he has to be one part civil rights martyr and one part race car driver, he doesn’t get to be whole part racing driver. And that’s not fair to him.

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“I’m not asking for a pity party on Bubba’s behalf, we in the Scott family knows this is what comes with the territory and he’ll make it through because he’s strong.

“We feel good about seeing this industry and his team at Richard Petty Motorsports, embracing him, that shows change and progression.”

What is needed now, says Warrick, is for the momentum to continue, or the series risks losing the opportunity for genuine change.

“I feel that. And that’s not a feeling that I should feel, nor anyone else in my family,” he says. “They’ve had 50-plus years to have these plans.

“It’s great where they’re starting but it’s only been what, a week and a half of this revolution?

“Still you have a legacy that lies dormant within your organisation. Are they going to put it in the lab and extract the cure? Or are they going to let things continue on this journey?”