STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's Friday, when we hear StoryCorps. The NASCAR Hall of Fame today will induct its first African-American driver. His name is Wendell Scott. He drove in the 1950s, during the Jim Crow era and was the first African-American to win a race at NASCAR's elite level. Mr. Scott's racing team was his family. They would travel to races together from their home in Virginia. His sons were his pit crew. Wendell Scott died in 1990. But his son, Frank, and grandson, Warrick, sat down to remember him.
FRANK SCOTT: He started racing in 1952. And, you know, it was like Picasso, like a great artist doing his work. He was in that car, and he was doing his work. And as children, we didn't have that leisure time. You know, we couldn't go to the playground. He said to us, I need you in the garage. I can remember him getting injured. And he'd just take axle grease and put it in the cut and keep working. But he wasn't allowed to race at certain speedways. He had death threats not to come to Atlanta. And daddy said, look. If I leave in a pine box, that's what I got to do; but I'm going to race. And I can remember him racing in Jacksonville. And he beat them all. But they wouldn't drop the checkered flag. And then, when they did drop the checkered flag, then my father was in third place. One of the main reasons that they gave was there was a white beauty queen, and they always kissed the driver.
WARRICK SCOTT: Did he ever consider not racing anymore?
F. SCOTT: Never. That was one of my daddy's sayings; when it's too tough for everybody else, it's just right for me. Like, I can remember one time when we were racing the Atlanta 500. And he was sick. He needed an operation. And I said, daddy, we don't have to race today. He whispered to me and said, lift my legs up and put me in the car. So I took my arms and put them behind his legs. And I kind of acted like I was hugging him and helped him in the car. He drove 500 miles that day.
W. SCOTT: How did his racing career officially end?
F. SCOTT: Well, finances... You know, he couldn't get the support where other drivers we were competing against had major sponsorship providing them engineers, as many cars as they needed. He did everything that he did out of his own pocket. He always felt like someday, he was going to get his big break. But for 20 years, nobody mentioned Wendell Scott. At one point, it was like he never existed. But he didn't let it drive him crazy. In fact, that's what made him so great. You know, he chose to be a race car driver. And he was going to race until he couldn't race no more.
INSKEEP: Frank Scott remembering his father, Wendell Scott. Today, Wendell Scott will become the first African-American inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Frank spoke with his own son, Warrick, in Danville, VA. And their conversation will be archived with all the others at the Library of Congress. As always, you can get the podcast on iTunes and npr.org.
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