Scott has hollywood movie story
By Scott Adamson
Scripps Howard News Service
NASCAR and Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend honored the late Wendell Scott by placing stickers bearing Scott’s likeness on all the cars competing in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
Scott, the first African-American driver to compete — and win — in what was then known as the Grand National Division, made his NASCAR debut 50 years ago right up the road here in Spartanburg, S.C. His first race took place at the old Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds on March 4, 1961.
His only win would come two years later at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., although track officials refused to immediately recognize his achievement.
In the era of Jim Crow a non-white driver winning in NASCAR wasn’t the way things were supposed to go, so it was only after the crowds left that Scott was “honored” with a second-rate trophy. Besides, they didn’t want a black man cozying up to a white beauty queen in victory lane.
These and other issues surrounding Scott are addressed in “Wendell Scott: A Race Story,” a docu-drama that debuted on ESPN following last month’s Daytona 500.
My “introduction” to Scott came with the 1977 theatrical release of the movie “Greased Lightning.” Of course I went to the movie because it starred Richard Pryor; I’d never heard of Scott.
By 1999, however, I had become fascinated with this driver’s amazing story. That year he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and I had a chance to talk to one of his sons, Wendell Scott Jr.
As it turned out, “Greased Lightning” was more Hollywood than reality.
“The initial script of the movie I thought was better,” Scott Jr. said. “It was more accurate. They tried to get Bill Cosby, but he was too expensive, then they tried to get Issac Hayes, and dad definitely didn’t want him playing the part. Then they decided on Richard Pryor, and even though dad had a great sense of humor, the movie became too much of a comedy. There was enough about him to make it interesting, but it certainly didn’t tell the story that we really think needs to be told.”
Scott began his racing career in 1947 in his hometown of Danville, Va. In the next few years he won 128 hobby, amateur and modified races, and in 1959 he grabbed 22 checkers and claimed both the Richmond track championship as well as Virginia State Sportsman title.
He moved up to Grand National in 1961.
Scott Jr., along with brother Frankie, went along for more than just the ride.
“In the early days Frankie and I were his pit crew,” Scott Jr. said. “My first paycheck was when I was 9-years-old, and dad gave me $5 for working the pits. Over time we had six or seven other people working with us, and that helped keep us competitive. I was crew chief and Frankie handled the chassis.
“You’ll hear people talk about how dad never had a pit crew, but you don’t win as many races as he did by yourself. From 1966-69, we finished in the top 10 in points, and you can’t do that without a true pit crew.”
Sounds like the makings of a great movie.