Still More Reflections On Newest HOF Members

Glen Wood (left) the patriarch of Wood Brothers Racing and Dale Inman, Richard Petty's long-time crew chief, were both quiet individuals who did not seek attention. They preferred to do their jobs without notice and produce the best results possible - which they did.

Again, if you will allow me to offer some personal observations and reflections:

At one time during my career as a motorsports journalist, I knew three of the five latest inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame more by their professional reputations rather than personally.

Over the years, however, one of those three became a familiar, friendly acquaintance and another a friend.

I was very aware of Richie Evans, the Modified driver. I watched him race, and win, at Martinsville Speedway.

Martinsville routinely had fields composed of the top Modified drivers of the day. Evans was considered the best of them.

Seems he won everywhere and everything. He was used to the media and accommodated them. But since I saw him rarely – the vast majority of Modified races were conducted in the Northeast – we never interacted.

Wish we had. I was always told he was one helluva character. With his longish hair, snarl of a smile and overall rouge-like appearance, he sure looked like one.

Oh, I bet he could tell some tales.

During the first several years I knew him – or better yet, was aware of him – I always suspected Glen Wood could also tell some tales.

But he wasn’t talking.

By the time my career began Wood was already recognized as one of the best team owners in NASCAR; the patriarch of a family organization that was, year after year, one of the most successful.

It was so successful – for example, it won 11 of 18 races in 1973 with driver David Pearson – that many believed Glen & Co. had conjured up technological advantages that made them practically unbeatable.

One thing was obvious: The Wood Brothers had, without a doubt, the fastest pit crew in NASCAR.

To me, the lanky Glen, whose hair turned from dark to rich silver, was almost regal. There were times when I decided that if I was going to approach him I would have to say, “Excuse me, Your Honor….”

He looked like a man with secrets. He walked around with a small, wry smile that led you to believe he knew something you didn’t.

In time he got to know me by sight, if nothing else. I’d smile and nod, and he would return the gestures. Eventually I got brave enough to ask him questions.

Most of them were general. I got polite, but short, answers. And I was never foolish enough to ask why folks thought his team had an advantage.

I can guarantee you no one else asked him that question.

But one day, quite unexpectedly, I got an answer.

I was asked to do a race program piece by Martinsville’s PR Director, the late Dick Thompson. He wanted me to go to the Woods shops in Stuart, Va.

I balked.

“Dick, I’m not too familiar with the Woods,” I said. “This could be a bit difficult.”

Thompson, one of the best in his field, would have none of it. He picked up the phone and called the Woods.

He spoke a while and hung up.

“What did they say?” I asked.

“Well, Glen wanted to know how long it was going to take,” Thompson said. “But you’re in. Be quick.”

This Wood Brothers Mercury Cyclone, driven by David Pearson, was vastly successful as it earned multiple victories. It was so dominant rivals often wondered what mysterious Glen Wood had up his sleeve.

When I arrived at their shop, the Woods were cordial and friendly. We pretty much did the entire interview in one room – reckon they didn’t want me to see too much.

But then something startling happened. We were discussing the rules of the time, part of which required carburetor plates of various sizes decreed by NASCAR.

Leonard Wood, Glen’s younger brother, team crew chief and engine builder (and considered by many the real source of the team’s strength), said to me:

“Let me tell you how crazy this plate stuff is.”

He then picked up a cardboard box and threw the contents on the floor.

There were plates of all sizes. Seems there were hundreds of them.

“This is what we have to do to keep up with everything,” Leonard said. “We make these things, try to make them fit and then see which can give us the most horsepower.

“But, hey, don’t take a picture of this, all right?”

Glen, with his arms crossed, simply smiled and looked at me with the satisfaction of a man who had willingly given up a secret.

I realized then the Woods had no real “secret.” They simply applied their natural talent and mechanical skills to the tasks at hand.

They were not afraid to experiment or take chances. They didn’t back off from applying new ideas. They felt completely free to take what NASCAR gave them and embellish it – to push the envelope.

It was Glen, with Leonard’s help, who fortified this attitude, and directed it, with work, into success.

Glen was never haughty, aloof or cold. Fact is, he had a great sense of humor. He was a team leader who spoke only when he thought it was necessary – and, at the same time, played his cards close to the vest.

In time it got to the point where Glen and I could engage in conversation. He’d even tell me his opinions of the issues of the day. There were always smiles, waves and handshakes.

It was more so with Leonard, by far the more outgoing. But, he, too, only revealed so much.

Oddly, as a good an acquaintance as he became, to this day I can’t help but consider Glen Wood as regal.

Of course, I don’t have to say, “Excuse me, Your Honor….”

I never said that to Dale Inman. But I actually kneeled to him. It sure as hell wasn’t by choice.

When it evolved that he was familiar with me and counted me as a reliable friend, Inman bestowed upon me his most honorable greeting of friendship.

I would reach out to shake his hand. He would grab it, pull me forward and then apply some godawful, Kung-Fu-like pressure on an arm nerve with his finger. It was instant agony.

Dale Inman is Richard Petty's cousin and was quite willing to see Petty get most of the limelight during their long and successful union. Petty was always very quick to credit Inman for much of his success.

“You afraid of me?” he would ask with an evil grin.

“No!” I would answer. The pressure would increase.

“You afraid of me?” he’d ask again.

“Yes!” I would reply – this time on my knees.

Such torture was his way to tell me I was welcome.

For a long time, no one seemed welcome in Inman’s life, especially a member of the media.

He was Richard Petty’s cousin and crew chief, on board from the time Petty made his first NASCAR start.

Petty’s success was almost instantaneous and, as has been well-chronicled, he quickly ascended the throne as NASCAR’s biggest winner and most popular superstar.

Petty said repeatedly he never accomplished anything on his own. He received tremendous assistance from his team, brother Maurice and cousin Inman.

Inman brought no notice to himself. He shunned attention and just did his job – and did it very, very well. Tactics and strategies applied by crew chiefs of today have been traced to Inman’s innovations.

When approached by the media most often Inman would refer them to Petty.

Many years ago, my good buddy Tom Higgins, former motorsports writer for the Charlotte Observer, and I determined that we were going to get an Inman exclusive.

At Martinsville, we implored H. Clay Earles, the late track president, to help us. We knew Earles had his hands on the purse strings.

Earles took us to Inman.

“Now listen,” he said, pointing at Inman, “these two boys aren’t out to hurt anyone. Trust me when I tell you that means you too. So I want you to talk to them.”

Inman did. He told us about his background, how he functioned within the team and how he worked with his cousin.

We didn’t dare ask him to comment on NASCAR or the issues of the day.

Even so, when the innocuous interview was done, Inman said to us: “Now don’t get me in trouble.”

We didn’t and I think Inman knew it, because with each passing week it became easier and easier to speak with him.

It wasn’t very long before Inman and I were having simple conversations – about his beloved Washington Redskins, for example.

In time, it evolved that Inman not only offered his opinions of the issues of the day, he also sought me out to deliver them.

Often his opening line was, “Again, NASCAR’s trying to shovel 10 pounds of manure into a five-pound bag.”

And the conversation would end thusly: “Now don’t get me into trouble.”

I guess I never did, because Inman remained open, friendly and always ready for conversation.

The first time he gave me that death grip with a wide smile, well, I knew I had become accepted.

Again, these personal reflections are just some of the several I’ve made about the five newest members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, intended only to reveal them as the individuals I knew.

I thank you for your indulgence.

Wood Enters Hall As Powerful Team Patriarch

Glen Wood was a successful driver on tracks around his home in Stuart, Va., but it’s not his on-track skills that make him a member of the third class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Rather, it is because he is the patriarch of one of the oldest, most venerated and most celebrated teams in NASCAR history – Wood Brothers Racing.

With brothers Leonard (who served as crew chief) and Delano (the jackman), Glen Wood started an organization that dates back to 1950 and continues to this day.

With some of the most notable drivers in NASCAR lore, a couple of whom have preceded Wood into the Hall of Fame, Wood Brothers Racing won nearly all the major superspeedway events. To date the organization is credited with 98 victories.

Unlike most NASCAR teams, the Woods did not compete for championships. They preferred a schedule that was limited to primarily superspeedway events. Their reasoning was that big-track races paid the most money and to do well increased the bottom line. Besides, it cost a lot of money to pursue a championship on a coast-to-coast schedule.

To say the Woods did well is an understatement. They did exceptionally well, so much so that their team was widely recognized as NASCAR’s best on superspeedways, regardless of who was doing the driving.

The Woods always seemed to find the combination that served them well on the big tracks – be it raw horsepower (which many believed) or the right mixture of power and handling.

Add to his another ingredient. The Woods, in their prime, were masters of the pit stop. They merged fluidity and creativity with speed to routinely produce the fastest stops in any race.

It’s likely there is no better proof of the Woods’ dominance on superspeedways and the contributions made by their pit skill than the 1973 season.

David Pearson, already a member of the Hall of Fame, was in his second year behind the wheel of the Woods’ Mercury. Impressively, he had won six times in only 14 starts in 1972.

The Woods planned to race in just 18 of 28 scheduled events in ’73, all but two of them on superspeedways.

Remarkably, they would win 11 times. It was an astonishing record.

“They ran against overwhelming odds,” said the late Harry Hyde, then crew chief at K&K Racing, “and they won anyway. Their record is incredible and may never be broken.”

Perhaps the season offers no better example of how, and why, the Woods dominated the superspeedways than the Motor State 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 24, 1973.

Roger Penske had take over the financially beleaguered track early in 1973 and the first thing he did was to cancel the speedway’s second NASCAR race, the Yankee 400, scheduled for August.

Penske felt the two-race NASCAR schedule was too tight and could have a negative financial impact.

Turns out he made the right move. The Motor State 400 drew the largest crowd in the track’s six-year history – 44,800 – and made a profit of $190,000.

The race itself seemed to play right into the Wood’s hands. It was free of any caution periods, something that has happened only three times in MIS history, which meant raw speed and pit stops could make all the difference.

Four pit stops were required by each competitor to cover the 400 miles. As predicted, the Woods were fastest on pit road, which meant that each time leader Pearson left, he had a bigger advantage over his rivals.

Buddy Baker, then driving for Hyde and the K&K team, was Pearson’s only rival. In fact the entire race was a tussle between the two, with Baker leading 10 times for 119 laps and Pearson seven times for 67 laps.

Baker ran Pearson down on two occasions following green-flag pit stops. Throughout the race, it appeared that no matter how much advantage Pearson gained after pit stops, Baker was able to overcome it.

On the last stop with 22 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, Pearson dashed into the pits for 7.3 seconds. Baker followed and spent 10.5 seconds on pit road.

The question was, did Baker have enough time to get past Pearson and thus win the race?

He did not. While Baker closed steadily, he ran out of time and finished 1.1-seconds behind Pearson.

“Buddy was running real well,” Pearson said. “I knew he was coming up on me at the end. It would have been only a few more laps before he would have caught me.”

Pearson and Baker were the only two drivers to complete all 200 laps and they finished one circuit ahead of Richard Petty.

The victory was Pearson’s seventh in 10 starts to that point of the season.

There was more to come in 1973.

And for the team founded by Glen Wood, there was even more, much more, to come in the years ahead.

 

Some Personal Notes On The Hall’s Newest Class

The NASCAR Hall of Fame has inducted its second class and I am rather proud to say that I have, in my career, actively covered the exploits of three of them and interacted personally with all five.

I wrote about the achievements (and occasional failures) of drivers David Pearson and Bobby Allison and team owner Bud Moore – for whom Allison drove from 1978-81. Allison, in fact, won the ’78 Daytona 500 in Moore’s Ford.

“Have a swig of my champagne,” Moore said to me in the press box after the race, holding out the bottle he took from victory lane. I told him no, I had to work. Thinking back on it, I wish I had taken a slug.

Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett had retired before my tenure as a motorsports journalist began, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see them race.

But I certainly heard all the stories about them and, like so many others, soon grew to appreciate their contributions and place in NASCAR history.

I consider myself fortunate to have interviewed them multiple times.

When I spoke with Petty about racing in his day, he always emphasized how difficult it was for him, his peers and their families.

The schedule was grueling, he said. The work was hard, the travel intense and the financial rewards were decidedly less than they were for the succeeding generation, which included his son Richard.

At first I thought he was nothing but a bitter old man. But soon I learned that Lee Petty was simply a man who called it as he saw it.

“Heck, daddy was the same when he was racing,” Richard once said.

The elder Petty had a sense of humor. After his retirement he became an avid golfer. At a media-guest tournament, I once asked him about his game and what he thought he could do to improve it.

“There’s not much I can do,” he said. “But I can tell you this: They need to make that itty-bitty hole a lot bigger.”

Jarrett became a crackerjack radio and television announcer and, as such, those of us in the media simply thought of him as a member of our clan.

He was, without a doubt, the friendliest, most unassuming and least cynical of us all.

It seemed he was interviewed as often as he interviewed others.

As fate would have it, I became Jarrett’s colleague when he and I joined Stephanie Durner on the set of the television show “Inside NASCAR,” which was presented on TNN at the turn of the 21st century.

Jarrett was the consummate professional. He used his experience to masterfully anchor the show. When it came to mistakes, and for him they were few, he was harder on himself than any producer or director could have ever been.

One summer, circumstances dictated that Jarrett and I would be the show’s only panelists – it was up to the two of us to make it work.

I was scared to death. Not to say I hadn’t grown accustomed to the nuances of television. Rather, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to offer enough input and opinion to pick up the slack.

In other words, good heavens, was Jarrett going to have to do virtually all the talking?

He didn’t. He didn’t have to. As the consummate anchor he was, Jarrett knew how to lead a discussion and draw me into it. Soon we engaged in lively – even fun – debates.

In the years since, I have often told Jarrett my thoughts about the television experience with him, how much I learned and how much I enjoyed it.

In response, he always smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Finally, in this unabashed personal recollection of the newest inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, when I saw Donnie Allison speak about his brother during the induction ceremony, I was reminded of an incident that played a role in both their careers – especially Donnie’s.

Ironically, it happened in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule, which was known as the World 600 on May 24, 1981.

Bobby Allison, driving for Harry Ranier, won the race over Harry Gant to earn the 64th of his 84 career wins.

His brother Donnie, driving for John Rebhan, was involved in a bad crash on lap 152, when his car spun out of control, bounced off the wall and into the path of a speeding Dick Brooks, driving for Billy Matthews.

The impact between Allison and Brooks was horrendous.

Allison was unconscious when removed from his car. At the hospital he was declared “unsatisfactory but stable.” He suffered several fractured ribs, a bruised right lung, a broken left knee and a broken right shoulder blade.

Brooks suffered a double fracture of the right shoulder.

It wasn’t the end of Donnie’s career, but it might as well have been. He competed in only six races before the accident put him out of commission for the remainder of 1981.

He drove in only 19 more events from 1982-88.


Bobby, meanwhile, went on to compete full-time for another eight years until a near-fatal crash at Pocono ended his career in 1988 – ironically, the same year Donnie drove his last race.

We all recognize achievement and know that it is what ultimately propels men into the Hall of Fame.

Given that, I daresay many of us also have personal, fond recollections of those already inducted – and those that will come.

I consider myself fortunate to be one.

 

Kenseth Put A Different Style To Good Use

A few ruminations after the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway:

** Matt Kenseth turned in what I thought was a very un-Kenseth like performance in the 500-mile race on the 1.5-mile Texas track.

No, it wasn’t that he won the race; rather, it was the style with which he did it.

I’ll admit I am one of many who have compared Kenseth’s driving style to that of David Pearson, winner of 105 races and now a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Pearson seemed to always save his car until the final portion of a race and then pounce with a rush to the front and the checkered flag.

He was sly and cunning. Both traits contributed to his nickname, “The Silver Fox.”

During his years with the Wood Brothers, Pearson was particularly effective in the late stages of a race. He might have been a calculating, deliberate driver, but many observers felt he was simply keeping his Woods Mercury reigned in until the time was right.

When Pearson bolted into the lead many of us figured he’d simply unleashed the power his car had all along.

“Looks like the Woods made that magic chassis change,” we’d say with eyebrows raised.

From all appearances over the years, Kenseth has seemed as deliberate as Pearson.

Not so at Texas. The Roush Fenway Racing driver dominated the field, leading 169 of 334 laps en route to an easy victory – the 19th of his career – in which he finished 8.34 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Kenseth looked more like the ultra-aggressive Cale Yarborough than Pearson.

There was, he said, a reason for that.

“We had such good track position all night we never really got behind which was a huge advantage for us,” Kenseth said. “I think it would have been a lot tougher for us to come from behind.

“More times than not the fastest car wins the race and that’s what happened tonight. We knew that if we kept the car up front it would be hard for anybody to beat us.”

So that’s exactly what Kenseth did – and he did it so well the anticipated first night race at Texas was a yawner.

It was, to say the least, a very timely victory for Kenseth. It snapped a 76-race losing streak. He hadn’t won since February of 2009, when he won at Auto Club Speedway, which came on the heels of his Daytona 500 victory.

Kenseth is now third in the point standings.

 

** Kenseth’s victory capped an excellent race for Roush Fenway. All four of its drivers finished among the top 10.

Kenseth won, of course, while Carl Edwards was third. Greg Biffle took fourth and David Ragan finished seventh – which rebuked the notion that his pole victory was a fluke.

It was a good weekend at Texas for Ford. The night before Kenseth’s victory, Edwards won the Nationwide Series race, which gave Mustang its first victory ever in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

Speaking of Edwards, he had uncomfortable race due to a stomach ailment. After the race he said it might have been caused by something his mother cooked and he ate.

“I felt little bad this morning,” Edwards said. “I felt better once the race started but then got a little sick again for a minute.

“But a good run like I had makes you feel great.”

Edwards fits the competitive mold of a stock car driver. I’ve never known one to seek relief because he felt sick. He had to be VERY sick.

 

** A few drivers who have received notice for surprisingly good performances in 2011 gained even more notoriety, I think, after Texas.

Paul Menard, whom many have said has found competitiveness at Richard Childress Racing, finished fifth.

Richard Petty Motorsports’ Marcos Ambrose finished sixth and many have already said he’s getting the hang of it all.

And, again, there’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. With ninth place he compiled yet another top-10 finish and moved up to sixth place in points.

Meanwhile, others find themselves, again surprisingly, struggling. They include Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano.

 

A Glimpse Of The Past Can Enhance What Is NASCAR Today

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – I had something of a revelation the other day.

Videographer Billy Waller and I were at the staging area for the annual beach parade conducted by Living Legends Of Auto Racing of Daytona Beach.

We were acting on a tip from Len Wood, who, with brother Eddie and other family members, operates Wood Brothers Racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup team that has been in existence for nearly 60 years.

Len and Eddie have attended the parade many times, and Len suggested that if I wanted to get video interviews with a few NASCAR pioneers, I needed to be at the parade’s staging area.

I asked him where it was. He told me it was at a drive-in church in Daytona Beach Shores.
Excuse me, but a drive-in church? Have to admit I had never heard of such a thing.

But it certainly wasn’t hard to find. Parked all over the open grounds of the church were classic cars, racing and others, of all shapes and sizes. There were also antique motorcycles and other vehicles.

There were sedans, coupes, roadsters, stock cars, jeeps, ’50s-model Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges – too many to count.

Some were easily recognizable, like replicas of Junior Johnson’s Chevrolet and Bill Elliott’s Ford. Others were classic cars of all types lovingly maintained by their owners.

Carloads of people poured in. Soon the grounds were teeming with spectators, most decked out in racing gear.
It was obvious they enjoyed exploring the cars. But there was something else. They also enjoyed each other.
Groups of folks gathered together amid conversation and laughter. I got the sense it was all a congregation of old friends.

Among the attendees were former drivers, some of whom are well into their ‘90s, and whose names have been largely forgotten – something the Living Legends of Auto Racing wants to remedy.

Without hesitation or encouragement they politely came up and spoke to Billy and me despite we were complete strangers. It was as if they simply enjoyed, and appreciated, our presence.

David Pearson, the three-time Sprint Cup champion and winner of 105 races, was also there. He had attended several times. He’s not in his ‘90s, by the way.

In fact, except for the fact that his hair is silver, he didn’t look much different than he did in his driving days. His hair color is somewhat appropriate given he was known as “The Silver Fox” during his NASCAR years.

Pearson is dealing in street rods these days, buying and selling them. He used to race regularly in vintage cars but hasn’t in some time. Why? He won every time. I knew that and wasn’t surprised.

“I can’t find anyone who’ll race me,” he said.
But let’s go back to my revelation.
After a period of time in the staging area it hit me: Where are the young people?
To be sure, there were some in attendance, but not many.
The population consisted mainly of folks who were clearly veteran race fans and had a connection with the past.

It appeared to me that as much as they knew each other they also knew the cars and drivers. I surmised they were there to be part of something they had known, enjoyed and experienced for a long time.

I asked L.L.O.A.R board member Nancy West if one of the organization’s causes was not only to preserve racing’s past, but also to bring it to the attention of today’s fans; especially the younger ones.

It was, she said. “I’ve been in garage areas with David Pearson and fans, and even young drivers, have walked right past him. They have no idea who he is.”

It occurred to me they should, because knowledge of racing’s past, and its pioneers, enhances the enjoyment of the sport today.
I admit it took me a while to realize that. Although I regularly received invitations to the L.L.O.A.R.’s annual Awards Banquet, held just days before the Daytona 500, I didn’t attend.

It wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate the past. Heck, I became friends with many who competed then – be it on the track, behind pit wall or in the shops.

I just thought I had better things to do.

Then it hit me that if celebrating the past for one night was good enough for Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, Ray Fox, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and so many others, it was good enough for me.

And if some of today’s fans take the time one day if possible – and at no cost – to visit the staging area at the drive-in church and the parade afterward, I really think that will be good for them, too.

Scott’s Tough Career Mattered Then – And It Does Now

Years ago most of us who covered NASCAR never gave Wendell Scott a second thought during his career.

He simply didn’t matter. He was a guy who ran his own skeletal team with a car that looked like something retrieved from a junkyard and who, most certainly, would never be a factor in any race he entered.

We had other drivers who mattered to us. Their names were Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Buddy Baker and Benny Parsons, among others as the years went by.

Who cared about Scott? We had our targets. Surely they were ones who would make our headlines.

But Scott certainly mattered, very much so.

I remember the first time I saw him. He was at Atlanta International Speedway in 1972. I didn’t know who he was – yet I had certainly heard of him. I found it interesting that amid all the activity in the garage area, with groups of men working on cars, he was the only one doing so on his.

I asked about him. I was given a summary of his trials as the only African-American driver in NASCAR. Then I learned that, after all he had gone through, he was poised to retire.

I worked for the Roanoke (Va.) World-News at the time. My traveling partner and fellow motorsports writer Bob Adams – much more seasoned than I – worked for the sister publication, The Roanoke Times. He was the one who told me that Scott, from nearby Danville, was ready to call it quits.

I wrote such for my paper without speaking a word to Scott. Shouldn’t have done that. Scott did indeed race a few more times afterward, but never as a regular.

Later I learned much more about Scott. Yes, I was told that he was pretty much a castoff in NASCAR, a man who raced only because he wanted to do with little hope of success, no more and no less. At first I didn’t understand that.

Yes, I heard all the talk about Scott being an African-American in a sport dominated by whites. The tales about the Scott the black driver began with how he beat the law in his days of moonshine running.

When he raced in NASCAR he did so with his own car. He never drove with full financial backing. He had to scrimp and scrape for every dollar. He relied on used equipment. Most of the time his pit crew was composed of his sons.

But he survived. He beat the odds and even the managers of some of the segregated motels of the day.
He was clearly an underdog, and that, along with his rugged determination, made him popular among many NASCAR fans.
Scott wasn’t always an underdog. He won 150 short-track races. He was crowned the Virginia state racing champion in 1959.
He was a man who knew, perhaps more than any of his rivals, how to drive a fast car, for which he gained great respect.

He was a man who, indeed, begged and borrowed anything he could to keep his place in NASCAR because it was a sport he loved – and the only thing he really wanted to do.

He won a Grand National race in Jacksonville, Fla., in December of 1963 to become the only black driver, to this day, to win on NASCAR’s premier circuit. He finished ahead of Buck Baker by two laps. But he was not given the checkered flag. Baker was.

Hours after Baker departed with the trophy NASCAR informed Scott that he was indeed the winner. It had discovered a scoring error. Scott got the winner’s check but no trophy – and he was not kissed by the race queen. He got the trophy in 1990, the year he died.

At Jacksonville, to the best of my knowledge, the late Gene Granger of Spartanburg, S.C., was the only motorsports writer to report the transgression.

It made no difference. NASCAR was not about to have a black driver receive a trophy in front of popping cameras and then be hugged – or much less kissed – by a white beauty queen.

I daresay NASCAR, in its quest for diversity, would love for that to happen today.

And I also daresay that any African-American driver, or a member of any minority, who makes it to NASCAR’s elite circuit today will have done so on a much easier path than Scott.

It won’t be done on his, or her, own. It will be accomplished with the cooperation of others, which likely includes the best in sponsorship and team support.

And it should not be done simply because he, or she, is a member of a minority. It should be achieved because of their talent and will to succeed. They should be given what they earn and not for who they are.

Simply put, diversity does not succeed by hand outs. It succeeds because those who are nurtured. They have the skills to make the most of their opportunity – and thus bring about change by merit.

Scott struggled during a different era when few cared if he succeeded. I think that it is different today.

Scott is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall Of Fame. He’s honored as a man who did the absolute best he could, and succeeded at his own level, amid circumstances that would have forced others like him to quit.

In that sense, he is, and always will be, a true pioneer.

But the best way to ultimately honor Scott, who died due to cancer of the spinal cord, is to someday have a member of our nation’s minorities compete and succeed. That person should stand at the podium at a NASCAR function and say:

“I would not be here today without the contributions and efforts of Wendell Scott.”

That would be the truth.

Editor’s Note: A documentary on the life of Wendell Scott will be presented as “Wendell Scott: A Race Story” on ESPN at 9 p.m. following the Daytona 500 broadcast on Feb. 20

Print This Post Print This Post