Meet NASCAR’s First African American Driver and Winner

Wendell Scott

Wendell Scott was born with racing in his blood. His father worked as a mechanic and driver in segregation-era Virginia, and was known as a man who loved pushing vehicles to their limits. Wendell inherited his father’s need for speed, and combined with a desire to avoid a career in a cotton mill, it drove him to become the first African American driver in NASCAR history—and the first to win a Grand National Series race.
Scott’s journey was marked by resistance from those in racing who were not ready to welcome a black driver into their exclusively white ranks. Before his first competition, told blacks were not allowed to compete and sent home. In working his way up the Dixie Circuit and racing other independent speedways, he’d become the target of slurs and derogatory remarks from spectators.

However, Scott would acquire a NASCAR license through a sort of side channel, and began competing in 1953. He elevated himself to the premier Grand National Division over the next decade, and on December 1, 1963, he became the first African American driver to place first in a Series race.

Officials declined to announce him as the victor, and refused to recognize the win for another two years. It was not until 2010 that his family finally received the trophy for his historic victory, nearly five decades after the race itself, and 20 years following Scott’s passing.