Wendell Scott - Leader Of The Class
So much about sports involves numbers, statistics. How many touchdowns or interceptions are thrown? How many points and rebounds does a player have? Who hit the most home runs, stole the most bases or threw the most strikeouts? Stats are equally important in racing, the number of wins, top five or top ten finishes a driver has. Even in a field where numbers reign supreme, there are still some things that transcend all numbers.
If fans looked at a baseball player's career numbers and saw he ranked only 535th in home runs hit, 557th in runs batted in and 836th in the number of games played, they certainly wouldn't think that player worthy of Hall of Fame status, especially if the he only played for ten seasons. Those ranking however, aren't very important when you realize they belong to Jackie Robinson. He was a pioneer.
The word pioneer has been defined as, "a person who is among the first..." or, "to be the first to do something..." Of the five inductees in this year's NASCAR Hall of Fame class, only one was a pioneer. That one man was Wendell Scott. The great sports writer Peter Goldenbock once wrote, "Wendell Scott was to NASCAR what Jackie Robinson was to baseball. The difference was that Robinson played in liberal Brooklyn and had the backing of Branch Rickey, and Scott raced in the segregated South and had nobody."
Scott wasn't just the first black driver in NASCAR, nor was he just the first black driver to win a NASCAR race. He was the first to do those things in a time and place in American history when he absolutely wasn't wanted. Fans and media like to talk about the passion that's involved in racing. No one has every strapped into a car facing the pure hatred that Wendell Scott faced. To do what he did, when he did it, shows a passion that I don't think any of us can comprehend. Why else would he subject himself to the countless insults, hardships and death threats? Think about that. His passion for what he did was so strong, it was able to overcome the fact he had to display it in the most racist part of America in what's arguably the most racist period in the country's history. Over the years, his family has told some of the stories about what they and their father had to endure. I have a feeling they've probably kept a lot of the worst memories to themselves.
As happy as I was to see Scott inducted into the Hall, I was somewhat shocked and certainly disappointed as recently as last year when there seemed to be a question as to whether or not he deserved to be recognized in that way. My biggest question leading up to the vote was what took so long? Why was he, a true pioneer and the ultimate underdog, not already a Hall of Famer?
Equally sad are some of the ignorant comments I've seen and read in the past week. "Derrike Cope has twice as many wins as Scott. When is he getting in the Hall?" Fortunately I haven't seen many but it's sad that in a country that likes to think of itself as advanced, those thoughts even exist. Most of us cannot fathom the idea of willingly thrusting ourselves into a position where we are not wanted, into a place where fans and officials would be all too happy to let us know just how much we were not wanted. Wendell Scott did. From everything I've read, he didn't do it so he could be considered a trailblazer or pioneer. He did it because he wanted to race a car! That's it. Yet even today, in a supposedly enlightened society, there are those who have a problem with that? How sad.
Out of 2,598 drivers that have raced a lap in NASCAR history, Scott is one of only 184 to record a win. You know the story of how he was denied even the joy of being recognized as the race winner that night in Jacksonville. His story is the ultimate underdog story. No driver has ever faced what Wendell Scott faced and thankfully, never will. He might only have one racing victory recorded but he was without question a winner in life. He didn't give in to a system that was built on sheer ignorance. That's something no other person in the history of the sport, much less in the Hall of Fame had to do.
The past can't be changed. However, it can be recognized and learned from. Hopefully Scott's induction to the Hall will help in that process. NASCAR likes to think of itself as equal to the other major American sports. Major League Baseball retired Robinson's number 42 across the sport. Recently, there have been some advocating for NASCAR to retire Jeff Gordon's 24. In a sport that doesn't retire numbers, if ever they do, they should start with Wendell Scott's number 34. Let it serve as a reminder that he was wronged on so many levels throughout his career. Let it stand as a symbol that as ugly as our past may be, in this sport and in the country, we've hopefully learned and grown from it. Let it be a reminder of hope; that hopefully, although we've not completely overcome racism in society, we're trying and will continue to try. And for any out there that are still ignorant enough to frame life in terms of black versus white instead of good versus bad, let it be on display that although it might take a while, good ultimately will overcome.