Motorsports Hall of Fame honors NASCAR legend Wendell Scott
BY MIKE BRUDENELL, DETROIT FREE PRESS
“That was his legacy,” said Scott, 55.
Scott was recalling her late father, Wendell Scott, before Wednesday night’s Motorsports Hall of Fame of America induction ceremony at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit, an event that attracted many of racing’s living legends.
Wendell Scott, who died Dec. 23, 1990, at age 69, was a racing pioneer — the first African-American driver to compete in NASCAR’s major series. He was the first African American to win a Grand National event, beating Buck Baker to the finish at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963.
Scott, who was awarded the Hall’s Heritage Award in 2008 for his exceptional contributions to motor sports, began racing in 1947. In a career that was prematurely ended by injury in 1973, he made 495 Grand National starts, winning once and recording 147 top-10 finishes. A movie, “Greased Lightning,” starring Richard Pryor, was made of his life in 1977.
“Daddy supported us in all the right things like education and living right,” said Sybil, who still resides in Danville, Va., where her father was raised. “I was a scorekeeper for him at the races. He was a great father and grandfather — the pillar of the community.”
Sybil Scott works with NASCAR’s diversity programs, along with her brother Wendell Scott Jr. “We still work closely with the NASCAR family,” Scott said. “We are making headway but have plenty of work to go.”
Scott said ESPN will show a new special on her father in February. “My father was a man before his time,” Scott said. “He worked hard, against the odds. He was a wonderful man.”
Starry night: The gala at the Fillmore was a who’s who of racers and motor sports industry leaders, including drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney, three-time Detroit Gold Cup winner Tom D’Eath, three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser, midget racing icon Mel Kenyon, former NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett, Indy car great Danny Ongais and NASCAR and IndyCar Series team owner Chip Ganassi.
They were on hand as Dale Armstrong (drag racing), Joie Chitwood (historic), Alan Kulwicki (stock cars), Jeremy McGrath (motorcycles), Ken Squier (at-large), Jerry Titus (sports cars) and Rich Vogler (open wheel) were inducted as the hall’s Class of 2010.
Ganassi, whose drivers have won the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and the Brickyard 500 this season — a racing first — acted as honorary chairman.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said Ganassi, who drove Indy cars himself before a big accident at Michigan International Speedway ended his driving career. “These are my heroes. I grew up thinking about and watching many of the drivers here tonight.”
As for the 2010 Sprint Cup and IndyCar Series seasons, what does Ganassi think?
“You dream of this kind of year,” he said. “It’s incredible.”