The incredible career of Scott

Published 9:09 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

This week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, all cars in the Sprint Cup race Sunday and trucks in the Camping World Truck race, will carry a decal honoring Wendell Scott.

The occasion for the recognition is the anniversary of Scott’s first NASCAR start, which occurred at Atlanta in 1961.

Scott was the first African-American to compete at the NASCAR level. In a career that lasted 13 years and 495 races, Scott is also credited for being the only African-American driver to win a race on the NASCAR circuit. In 1964, Scott was declared the winner of a race in Jacksonville, Fla., hours after it ended as Buck Baker, the supposed winner of the race celebrated in Victory Lane.

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From Danville, Va., Scott was an auto mechanic during the week and traveled throughout the Southeast with two of his sons racing on the weekends. In the 1960s, corporate sponsorship was scarce and, typically, the only financial support race teams received was from the manufacturers. Scott operated on a slight budget, if any budget at all.

One night a few years ago, I listened to Scott’s son on XM radio recount numerous stories of life on the road with his father. One story in particular has stuck with me and proved Scott’s love of racing.

Scott usually drove his wrecker to each track towing his race car, with his two sons in accompanying him in the cab. After blowing up the engine in his car one week, Scott was not able to repair the engine the following week, due to working on customers’ cars at his mechanic shop.

Not wanting to miss the next race, Scott hooked up the car, like normal, to the wrecker and headed to the track. Once at the track, Scott unloaded his tools and removed the engine from the wrecker. He then put that engine in his racecar and drove the race.

After the race, he took the engine out of the car, re-installed it in the wrecker, and headed home to Virginia. Boy, how times have changed. I bet you could count on one hand the number of today’s drivers that would begin to know how to take an engine out a car.

Through the years, many of top drivers of that period have spoken very highly of Scott, with Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett being the most vocal. Scott died in 1991, but Sunday, his accomplishment from 49 years ago will be remembered.

Who can stop Jimmie Johnson and the Lowes team? Coming off four consecutive championships, Johnson shows not even the slightest hint of any weaknesses. Three races into the season and with two wins, the 2010 champion will definitely have to beat Johnson.

Johnson will be strong again this weekend at Atlanta, where he has won three times and has an average finish of 10th in 17 career races. But, my pick to win this weekend is Johnson’s teammate and part owner of the Lowe’s team, Jeff Gordon.