On December 1st of 1963, Wendell Scott won the Jacksonville 200. He didn’t win by two tenths or even two seconds, he won by two laps. In what has been alleged a callous racist bullshit move, the trophy that night was presented to second-place finisher Buck Baker. A few hours after the event ended, race officials looked at the lap charts to discover that Scott had actually taken the victory, lapping the field twice.
Scott was awarded the winner’s purse four weeks later, but despite the near immediate discovery of the mistake, he wasn’t given historic credit for the victory for two more years, and never received a proper victory lane celebration before his death in 1990. The Scott family has finally got the celebration they feel they have always deserved.
“It matters because my father earned it and it was something he had to labor on,” son Frank Scott said. “He always wanted to get his trophy and he predicted that he would get his trophy one day. He said, ‘I may not be here with you all, but one day I’ll get my trophy.’
“It’s important because I see the growth in NASCAR and I see the growth in diversity that didn’t used to exist, and I think that’s something that this will lay a really solid foundation to build on. Not saying they don’t have a foundation now, but ... we got it right. When you learn better, you do better. It’s been a while, but we’re enthusiastic about it. We’re not getting stuck in the past.”
Scott is the first, and to date only, Black man to have won a race in NASCAR’s top class. NASCAR chose the regular-season finale this weekend at Daytona because it is the closest race to Scott’s Jacksonville win, and in partial celebration of Scott’s centenary birthday. If nothing else, I find it interesting that NASCAR presented this long-overdue trophy to its only Black race victor the very same weekend it awarded the regular-season championship trophy to Kyle Larson who was suspended last season for shouting the N word. Cool, cool, cool.
Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, gave the trophy to Wendell’s son Frank Scott on stage ahead of Saturday night’s race. The only other Black driver to win in a NASCAR national series, Bubba Wallace, joined the Scott family for the ceremony. As the gathered celebration left the stage Warrick Scott leaned over and kissed the trophy in a symbolic gesture of just what this moment means to him.
NASCAR has a long way to go to build a solid foundation on top of its shaky racist history, but this was definitely the right thing to do. Despite Wendell having died thirty-one years ago, it’s nice to see his family finally get the representation they have always felt Wendell deserved.