Wendell Scott earned a second NASCAR first on Wednesday: He became the first African-American driver to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The late driver from Virginia was among the latest group of five – all drivers, another first – voted in the hall on Wednesday. Scott joins popular NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, two-time series champ Joe Weatherly, 1960 champion Rex White and 26-time race winner Fred Lorenzen.
Scott competed in NASCAR’s top series from 1961-73. He won his only race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963, taking the checkered flag in the 100-mile feature after starting 15th. Scott started 495 Sprint Cup events and had 147 top 10 finishes.
“I just felt like that his time was coming and he would say that too, one day it’s going to happen,” said Scott’s son, Franklin.
When Scott’s name was called there were enthusiastic shouts and applause from fans, officials and family members gathered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame rotunda. He was the second-leading vote getter behind Elliott from a 54-member panel, including current Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Scott, who died in 1990, was the first African-American driver to race fulltime in NASCAR’s top series. He had won more than 100 races at local tracks before stepping up to race against NASCAR’s best. Among Scott’s legacy to the sport is the sport’s Drive for Diversity initiative, one of the top youth development programs for multicultural and female drivers across the motorsports industry that’s been in place since 2004.
“The next inductee gives me additional pride,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said in introducing Scott, “Because he undoubted scaled and climbed the highest mountain.”
Scott’s story was loosely portrayed in the 1977 movie, “Greased Lightning,” where Richard Pryor starred as Scott, the one-time taxi driver from Danville, Virginia.
“He said one day they are going to write a book about me,” Franklin Scott said of his father. “He had great determination. He was a great ambassador for the sport.”
Elliott was the 1988 Sprint Cup champion and his 44 race victories rank 16th in NASCAR history. The driver nicknamed “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville” was also the first to win the Winston Million bonus in 1985 for capturing three of NASCAR crown jewel races.
When Elliott’s name was called, racer son Chase patted him on the shoulder.
“This is at the top of everything I’ve ever done and accomplished,” he said. “This is the pinnacle.”
Elliott said he was a bit surprised when he was called first and thanked those who helped him achieve what he had in racing.
“You look at all of the people to be nominated and you try to put things into perspective. And bam, you are the first name announced and it’s like, holy mackerel what just happened,” he said.
Modified champion Jerry Cook was sixth, car owner Robert Yates seventh and the late driver and announcer Benny Parson’s eighth. The five inductees will be enshrined at ceremonies on January 30th.
Hall of Famer Richard Petty, among the voters, said there were few clear cut people on the list of 20.
“I had my thoughts and others had theirs, but nobody said `this’ is the guy that needs to get in,” Petty said. “That was different than past years.”
Weatherly, who died in 1964, won 25 races in NASCAR’s premiere series including those back-to-back championships in 1962 and 1963.
White raced from 1956-64, winning 28 times in 233 events including six races during his championship season in 1960.
Lorenzen started as a mechanic in NASCAR in 1960, but became a driver by the end of the year. He won the first three of his 26 races the next season. In 1963, Lorenzen had a stretch of dominance like few others when he won eight of 16 races entered. At one point, he led 1,679 of the possible 1,953 laps run.
Series matriarch Anne Bledsoe France was honored with the inaugural Landmark Award. She was the wife of NASCAR founding father, Bill France, and grandmother of current CEO and chairman Brian France. Anne B. France served as secretary and treasurer of NASCAR.
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.
Updated May 21, 2014