A great honor for a great man

NASCAR finally pays proper respect to its Jackie Robinson

BY GEORGE DIAZ
ORLANDO SENTINEL (TNS)

It’s easy to measure greatness in victories, trophies and championships.

But what about standing up to prejudice and people who think the color of your skin makes you less worthy? What about going about your business in the face of death threats? What about keeping your faith and dignity when you are denied the opportunity to stand on Victory Lane as a winner?

Images of the 2015 class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees are displayed during a news conference at the Hall of Fame on May 21, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. The class features, from left, Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen.(DAVID T. FOSTER III/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER/TNS)
Images of the 2015 class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees are displayed during a news conference at the Hall of Fame on May 21, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. The class features, from left, Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen.
(DAVID T. FOSTER III/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER/TNS)

Wendell Scott is finally in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It is a moment everyone should cherish, not just the folks who are smitten by left-hand turns.

Much like his career, it was a slow grind and a challenge to get to the grand stage. He fell short of votes for several years, a process I didn’t quite understand given the particular dynamics.

Scott is NASCAR’s Jackie Robinson. He competed in the Jim Crow era, facing all sorts of indignities like getting his tires slashed before a race. NASCAR officials once insisted that Scott and his crew would have to shave their beards in Bristol if they wanted to compete in a race. Richard Petty intervened on Scott’s behalf, and the beards stayed.

A ‘Wendell’ box
He only won once in 495 starts, a stat that may raise some eyeballs comparing him to Robinson. But Scott won just by showing up. He preserved with honor and grace.

And it was never a fair fight on the track.

Dale Inman, Petty’s longtime crew chief and a NASCAR Hall of Fame member, once told me about a “Wendell box” — throwaway pieces — that Scott and his crew could pick off on any given week. Batteries and used tires, too.

“No question the odds against him were stacked,” Inman said. “And he probably understood that, but he never complained about his circumstances.”

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Proud day for sons
To this day, Scott remains the only African-American to win a NASCAR race at its highest level.

Given the historic context, it is important to celebrate the moment last weekend when his sons, Wendell Scott Jr. and Frank Scott, stood on stage in Charlotte, N.C. accepting the honor on their daddy’s behalf.

Wendell Scott died in 1990, and his wife was unable to attend the ceremonies because of poor health.

Wendell Jr. then kissed the Hall of Fame ring.

“I kissed the ring for Daddy and Mommy because they couldn’t do it themselves,” he said. “Daddy was a man of great honor,” Frank said. “He didn’t let his circumstances define who he was.”

Fitting tribute
NASCAR finally got it right. Big time. Scott was joined in the Class of 2015 by other NASCAR greats:
Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.

The guy introducing Scott? Four-time NASCAR Cup champ and sure-fire Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.

“Our next inductee did a lot with a little, on a shoestring budget and with a pit crew that was truly a family affair,” Gordon said. “He is a story of perseverance and determination in the face of unimaginable obstacles.”

Amen.

A well-deserved group hug to a gentleman who belongs.

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