Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scott Worthy of Hall Consideration

The latest round of 25 names eligible for the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame were announced on Tuesday, including five brand-new names: H. Clay Earles, Bobby Isaac, Cotton Owens, Les Richter and Leonard Wood.

But one name remains conspicuously absent: Wendell Scott.

I'll admit, if you only look at the numbers, Scott's name should be nowhere near this list. He only won one race in his entire Cup career -- Dec. 1, 1963 in Jacksonville, Fla. -- and race promoters initially named second-place Buck Baker the win (even though Scott won by two laps). It wasn't until the celebration ended that NASCAR named Scott the winner -- giving him his check, but not the trophy.

Why would something like that happen? Because Scott was black. Life in America was tough for African-Americans in 1963 as it was, but imagine how hard it had to be for an African-American trying to break through in NASCAR, a sport with deep Southern roots.

The track denied Scott his win because officials didn't want him in Victory Lane, kissing the white trophy girl. The speedway never gave Scott a trophy; it wasn't until this year that the track offered a trophy to his family.

The case for Scott's candidacy goes beyond his on-track performance. He's been called the Jackie Robinson of NASCAR, which isn't entirely accurate. But given that Scott was the first African-American to run in NASCAR's premiere series -- and the only African-American to ever win a NASCAR national touring series race -- gives him a case based on pioneer status.

It's not like NASCAR has ignored Scott; on the night of the 2011 Daytona 500, ESPN, in association with NASCAR Media Group, produced an outstanding documentary telling his story, and NASCAR honored Scott in Las Vegas earlier this season with car decals celebrating the 50th anniversary of Scott's first career start.

But was it enough?

Some affiliated with NASCAR on the media end have argued for Scott's addition to the 25 names that will be voted on; five new members will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.

Jim Utter, of The Charlotte Observer and, has been the most adamant, while Dustin Long of Landmark Newspapers and also posed the question. And while I agree that Scott at least deserves consideration, there's one thing holding him back.

Whereas Robinson kicked the door down for African-American baseball players, effectively shifting the game's demographic forever, Scott didn't do the same for NASCAR. There has been a decided lack of high-profile African-American drivers in NASCAR since Scott's time behind the wheel.

Willy T. Ribbs made a few NASCAR starts, but he never found his footing. Bill Lester had a solid couple years in what was the Craftsman Truck Series, but he only made a handful of Cup starts. Marc Davis never found his footing in the Nationwide Series, and NASCAR's Drive For Diversity program has had, to be polite, mixed results.

To be perfectly frank, women and international drivers have had a larger presence in NASCAR than African-Americans.

That's not to say NASCAR doesn't have its share of African-American fans or African-American crew members, because it does. But stardom and prominence in NASCAR will always be reserved for the drivers (and the occasional crew chief), and the reality is ... since Scott, there have been no prominent African-American drivers in NASCAR.

Sadly, that puts a little bit of a dent in Scott's status as a pioneer.

There's a reason some within the sport are hopeful that Darrell Wallace Jr. can become a star in the sport. The young man is making a name for himself in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series; if he can get that big break into one of NASCAR's top national series in the next year or so, I think the sport -- and Scott -- would benefit.

Robinson is called a pioneer because he forever changed the face of baseball; Scott, for all his bravery and success, has not done that. Through no fault of his own, NASCAR is lacking as much diversity among its drivers today as it did back in the 1960s.

I think Scott should've been among the 25 names announced Tuesday, because I think he deserves the conversation. We need to talk about his career and what he meant to the sport. Maybe his legacy is still being written; maybe it won't have the immediacy that Robinson did for baseball.

I don't think he's a Hall of Famer yet, but what's the harm in talking about it?

No comments: