Wendell Scott has company.
Bubba Wallace posted his first NASCAR Cup Series victory Monday at Talladega Super-speedway, becoming the first Black driver to prevail in the sport’s premier division in nearly 58 years. Scott, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, is the only other Black competitor with a Cup Series win.
Wallace, in his fourth full season of Cup Series competition, also made winners of 23XI Racing, a new organization headed by co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. The 27-year-old was tapped by the NBA legend and his fellow Cup Series driver for the No. 23 Toyota after driving three years for team owner Richard Petty.
But it was also a winning day for stock-car racing history, with Wallace channeling Scott’s trail-blazing spirit by forging his own path into the record books. Scott’s lone Cup Series victory came on Dec. 1, 1963 in Jacksonville, Florida. Buck Baker was initially flagged as the winner, but a protest and a later scoring recount gave the triumph to Scott.
That win came at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and race officials (reluctant to celebrate a Black driver’s triumph in the Deep South) did not give him a proper Victory Lane celebration at the time. NASCAR officials righted that wrong earlier this year in pre-race ceremonies before the Cup Series’ regular-season finale in August at Daytona International Speedway.
That tribute included the presentation of a replica of the winner’s trophy, and Wallace joined the Scott family on the pre-race stage. Wallace was born three years after Wendell Scott’s death, but he has remained connected with family members who have followed and supported his racing career.
“He’s someone that I’ve known for quite a while, and we’ve always pulled for him in everything that he does,” Warrick Scott, Wendell’s grandson, said during the Daytona race weekend. “It’s not easy being him, just as a man. Being similar in age and things of that nature, I can understand a great deal of what he goes through. For me, it’s been wonderful watching him mature and turn into who he’s become and what it means to the African American community, to me is paramount. I think he’s an emerging legend himself, and I love the way he competes, but also how he shares his passions.”
Scott made 495 starts in NASCAR’s top series, recording 20 top-five finishes. His driving days ended in 1973 and he died in 1990 at age 69. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year.
Speedway Park (the half-mile dirt track that hosted Scott’s landmark win) is long gone, shuttered in 1973 and later redeveloped. The Madelyn Oaks apartments now sit at the corner of Lenox and Plymouth on Jacksonville’s west side. Scott’s win was the last Cup Series race the track ever hosted.
Wallace’s path to a big-league triumph had been foretold by modest national-series success. He notched six Camping World Truck Series wins from 2013-17. One of those Truck victories came carrying Scott’s longtime car number, driving a retro-themed No. 34 entry at Martinsville Speedway to honor the driver’s selection for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
“Used to get calls all the time, aspiring drivers would say we all want to start in the Cup Series. My father would say: ‘Well, you gotta cut your roots first,” said Frank Scott, Wendell’s son, back in August. “And I think Bubba has done that. He started out in the lower divisions and worked his way up, and where he is now is most deserving.”