CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Jessie Barksdale never knew Wendell Scott, but he traveled from Virginia to be at Scott’s induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Raymond Arnold Jr., who once pulled a carburetor out of his 1962 Chevrolet Impala and gave it to Scott to race in Spartanburg, S.C., also didn’t want to miss this moment Friday.
On a night that left 16-time Most Popular Driver Bill Elliott awestruck, had an ailing Fred Lorenzen smiling more than his children had seen in some time and featured the inductions of Joe Weatherly and Rex White, Scott’s moment was the most meaningful, as he became the first African-American in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Critics will question his credentials – one victory in 495 starts is not worthy of inclusion they’ll say – but Scott competed in the Jim Crow era where he faced death threats, catcalls and other forms of injustice his competitors did not. Scott’s induction was as much for his determination as for his record.
When the moment was at hand, when the Hall of Fame ring was before Wendell Scott Jr., as he stood on stage with his brother Frank, Wendell Scott Jr. kissed it.
“I kissed the ring for Daddy and Mommy because they couldn’t do it themselves,’’ he said.
His father died in 1990. His mother was not healthy enough to travel to the ceremony.
Others were there. The Scott family said more than 100 people came to witness their father’s moment, some traveling from California, Florida and New York. They wanted to share in a moment the family had waited on for so long.
Family members often came to Charlotte when the Hall of Fame class was announced, not knowing, but hoping their father’s name would be called. It wasn’t the first five times, leaving them disappointed but determined to return the next year and try again.
“The Bible teaches that before a person can have honor, they must first have integrity and humility,’’ Frank Scott said in his speech. “In addition, another one of his great attributes was perseverance. There were two words that were forbidden for us to use growing up in the Scott household: Those words were can’t and never.’’
So the family returned to the Hall each year waiting for their father to be honored.
The reward came Friday with Scott becoming one of 30 men in the Hall of Fame.
Among those there was Barksdale. He’s never been to a race, but he made the 150-mile trip.
“I wanted to be a part of this,’’ he said.
Moments after he had his photo taken next to a picture of Scott, Arnold did the same with family members.
Arnold related how when he got married, he and his wife planned to go to Washington, D.C., for their honeymoon. They never got past Danville, Va. They stopped to visit Scott and Arnold spent the week working on Scott’s car. When the work was finished, it was time to return to South Carolina.
Scott was off to another race, often facing challenges most could not comprehend.
Wendell Scott Jr. recalls the challenge of crossing the track in front of the stands in many places.
“He told us to listen to the fans that we don’t hear,’’ Wendell Scott Jr. said of his father’s advice. “Those were the fans that really supported us. Over the years there came to be more of them than we realized.’’
Frank Scott highlighted that temperament at the end of his speech about his father.
“We must carry his legacy to even greater heights with the same selflessness, honor, integrity, humility and perseverance that were his trademark,’’ Frank Scott said. “Let me conclude with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: He said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of control and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. Wendell L. Scott, Sr., stood the test of time.’’
And will forever be remembered in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.