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Scott biographer: Hall nominations another snub

- Bristol Herald Courier, Va.
Saturday, Jul. 04, 2009

Wendell Scott was the very definition of a pioneer.

The Danville, Va., native broke the formidable color barrier in stock car racing on May 23, 1952, then endured years of neglect, abuse and outright treachery at many levels of the southern-bred sport.

Despite having little money and many enemies, Scott posted 147 top-10 finishes -- including one victory -- in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series. He finished sixth in the point standings in the 1964.

The bravery and perseverance displayed by Scott off the track might have been even more impressive.

He is NASCAR's version of Jackie Robinson, yet that legacy was still not enough to earn Scott a spot among the 25 nominees announced this week for NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class.

Judging from the list released Thursday night, it appears all those splashy press conferences and impassioned speeches on diversity from NASCAR officials in recent years were just empty platitudes.

Brian Donovan knows the painful, and even shocking, story. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize winner and former Newsday investigative reporter wrote a book about Scott's life entitled "Hard Driving: The American Odyssey of NASCAR's First Black Driver."

Contacted via e-mail Friday at his home on Long Island, N.Y, Donovan said the latest snub is consistent with the way Scott was treated during his 13-year Cup career.

''Wendell Scott's pioneering accomplishments certainly deserve recognition in NASCAR's Hall of Fame. But it's not surprising he's not on the list," Donovan said.

''NASCAR doesn't seem ready to admit that powerful officials in the sport repeatedly did him wrong."

In his 288-page book, Donovan revealed many instances where the top drivers and officials attempted to intimidate Scott and harm his career.

''For instance, Darlington Raceway banned Scott for more than three years, but NASCAR remained silent," Donovan said. "Longtime NASCAR chairman Bill France Sr. promised Scott he'd always be treated without prejudice, but France didn't keep that promise."

To be eligible for the NASCAR HOF, former drivers must have competed 10 years in NASCAR. The nominating committee consisted of 21 representatives, ranging from seven NASCAR representatives, track owners, the historian and executive director from the Hall of Fame.

Along with obvious choices such as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson, second-level drivers such as Benny Parsons, Buck Baker and Fireball Roberts were nominated.

In October, a broad-based 47-member committee will decide which five nominees will be inducted when the Hall opens in May in downtown Charlotte.

Without question, the 25 nominees have impressive resumes. They are championship drivers, innovators and power-brokers. Still, it's odd that there wasn't room for Scott, who overcame nearly impossible odds each week.

''The class of nominees seems to be filled with trailblazers in the sport's history. Looks like they left off one important one," TV Guide motorsports writer and motorsports historian Robert Edelstein said via e-mail Thursday.

If only as a symbolic gesture, the nomination of Scott would have been huge for a sport that lags miles behind on the diversity curve.

On June 11, NASCAR suspended crew chief Bryan Berry for allegedly uttering a racial slur at African-American driver Marc Davis during the June 6 Nationwide race at Nashville Superspeedway. Berry apparently was upset because Davis collided with his driver, Brendan Gaughan, on pit road.

No African-American driver has attempted a full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup ranks since Scott was forced to retire after suffering injuries in a racing accident at Talladega Superspeedway in 1973. Scott died in 1990 at the age of 69.

Donovan said he believes a simple admission by NASCAR officials would go a long way to soothing some of the old wounds and paving the way for tangible progress.

''If NASCAR could acknowledge that its top officials sometimes treated Scott unfairly, that could give the current diversity efforts a good deal more credibility," Donovan said.

But, as this week's nominations demonstrated once again, that's an admission the sport clearly is not ready to make.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.