Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday September 3, 2009
At first glance, when little more than a month ago the NASCAR Hall of Fame 21-member Nominating Committee released its list of 25 candidates eligible for enshrinement into the inaugural Hall of Fame class, it appeared to be a pretty comprehensive list of the sports legends. The committee compiled its list of possible inductees from a broad spectrum of the sport; included were drivers, owners, and the founder of the organization. However, like most things NASCAR, there are those that have found fault with the sport for not including pioneering African-American driver Wendell Scott in the final cut.
Scott’s story is one that has been well-chronicled, and a name that most followers of the sport are familiar with. The driver, who campaigned in NASCAR’s top division now known as the Sprint Cup Series, competed in 495 events from 1961 through 1973. During his career, he campaigned almost exclusively in the racially divided Southeastern United States. Though enduring racial insults from spectators and at times unfair treatment from competitors, Scott’s story is a true example of personal grit, perseverance, and courage. It is a story that should continue to be told, and certainly one that should be honored.
But is inclusion on the list of NASCAR’s most influential and deserving candidates, or for that matter election into the sport’s inaugural group of five inductees, appropriate? The plain truth, absent political correctness or intimidation of being labeled racially biased is – no.
The criterion for consideration into the HoF is straightforward: Candidates will be selected based on their accomplishments and contributions to the organization. A survey of the top-25 candidates to be voted on for entry to the Hall would find that, without exception, all met at least one if not both of those qualifiers, far surpassing both Scott’s on-track accomplishments or contributions to the sport. The lone factor that distinctly separates Scott from dozens of other competitors, then, is that Wendell Scott was a black man.
Nonetheless, some feel that Scott should be honored as one of the top 25 or even top 5 individuals that have either accomplished or contributed the most to in the sport since its inception in 1949. Motorsports/Automobile Industry journalist Steve Parker believes that NASCAR made an error in excluding Wendell Scott from the first class of possible inductees, and shared his thoughts in his blog in the liberal-leaning Huffington Post. “NASCAR has a fabulous chance to grab some positive, international public attention as insiders and fans vote on the first five members of the sport’s new Hall of Fame,” he said. “But, as they’ve done before, the powers-that-be have blown it.”
The article then continued to bash NASCAR, complete with the issue of Confederate Flags being displayed by fans at race events and an indictment against sponsors that associate their companies with the sport. This was all, of course, in an effort to exemplify that racism is prevalent within stock car racing.
Now, as convoluted as Mr. Parker’s reasoning is, he is accurate in his belief that NASCAR could have generated some positive spin by including Wendell Scott on the list of 25 nominees. In fact, it may have been tempting for the nominating committee to take the easy road and throw Scott’s name into the mix. But of course, he would not have made the final cut, which then would without doubt bring about yet another round of jabs at the sport and the organization.
So really, what Mr. Parker and a number of others are suggesting is that NASCAR should have made a token and insincere gesture by including the Danbury, VA native’s name among the 25 most prominent people in the history of NASCAR. They are not asking for truth or accuracy – just political correctness.
Brian Donovan, who in 2008 penned the must-read biography of Scott’s life, “Hard Driving: The American Odyssey of NASCAR’s First Black Driver,” also takes NASCAR to task for the exclusion of Scott from Hall of Fame consideration. ‘‘Wendell Scott’s pioneering accomplishments certainly deserve recognition in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. But it’s not surprising he’s not on the list,” Donovan said.
‘‘NASCAR doesn’t seem ready to admit that powerful officials in the sport repeatedly did him wrong.”
It’s true that Wendell Scott was, many times, treated wrong. It is hoped and assumed that NASCAR, like the nation, has progressed significantly in its racial attitudes since 1961. But mistreatment at the hand of some NASCAR-associated individuals does not in itself justify entry into the Hall of Fame.
Others, such as Allen Gregory of the Bristol Herald Courier, recently wrote, “He is NASCAR’s version of Jackie Robinson, yet that legacy was still not enough to earn Scott a spot among the 25 nominees announced this week for NASCAR’s first Hall of Fame.”
The Jackie Robinson of NASCAR? Not quite. First of all, Jackie Robinson not only broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, he was Rookie of the Year in 1947, a six-time All-Star, and the National League MVP in 1949. Additionally, Robinson opened the door for black players in the sport and thousands have since followed his path.
Over in stock car racing, though, there has been no African-American driver since Wendell Scott’s retirement due to injuries suffered at Talladega that has competed regularly in NASCAR’s elite series. Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball was a monumental event that contributed significantly in changing the culture of the sport, if not the country. In truth, it cannot be said that Scott’s 1961 debut in NASCAR has had the same social impact.
Wendell Scott was a hell of a man and a dedicated racer. However, he was not part of any social movement nor motivated to race by anything more than his love of the sport and the freedom of being his own boss. In time, he gained through his tenacity, talent, and perseverance the admiration and respect of his fellow competitors and the fans that filled the grandstands.
Though his successes on the track were modest, his journey as a black stock car driver in the early days of NASCAR are noteworthy. The career of Wendell Scott in NASCAR was filled with instances of racially motivated injustices, as well as numerous examples of heartwarming, charitable acts by his competitors. Scott chose to be a black stock car driver at a time in this nation’s and the sport’s history when racism was commonplace, and there is no reason for NASCAR to hide from its past from admitting that.
When the much-anticipated NASCAR Hall of Fame opens next year in Charlotte, N.C. next year, Wendell Scott will not be among the first five inductees enshrined. Yet though his career did not meet the lofty requirement for inclusion, he should not be forgotten, either. The complete Wendell Scott story, both the flattering and not-so-flattering for NASCAR, should be prominently displayed. It is a story that should not be forgotten, and contains lessons that visitors to the Hall of Fame should never forget.
And… that’s my view from Turn 5.
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