Danville, Va., native Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver, will not be one of the first inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when it opens in Charlotte, N.C., in May, but he won't be forgotten either, says Buz McKim, the hall's historian.
Controversy over inducting Scott into the inaugural Hall of Fame class began after the announcement of nominees was made, drawing national media attention.
McKim spoke to a crowd of about 60 at Wendell Scott Recognition Day at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, in Martinsville, on Saturday. Dozens of other people stopped by the event to look at the displays of Scott's life and to purchase a book about his life, "Hard Driving," by Brian Donovan or art featuring Scott and his race cars, created by Martinsville native Alexir "Lex" Hairston, who also organized the event.
McKim said there will only be five people a year inducted into the Hall of Fame, from a list pared to 25 nominees for the inaugural year.
The project will contain not only the Hall of Fame, but will be a museum of the sport as well, McKim said.
''Literally hundreds of people will be showcased," he said.
Wendell Scott will be one of those, McKim said, adding that he hopes the man he knew most of his life is one day inducted into the Hall of Fame.
''He was awesome," McKim said. "As kids, we realized he was special ... I have no doubt one day he'll be in it."
McKim also asked the crowd to let him know if they had any Scott memorabilia that can be included in the showcase, noting that finding artifacts of Scott's career has been a problem.
''He'd use something until it was all used up," McKim said, adding that uniforms, cars and other items are extremely rare. "We were thrilled to learn one of his sons has a door from one of his cars."
Hairston thanked McKim for reassuring the crowd that Scott would not be forgotten in the Hall of Fame's plans.
The second purpose of the day was to introduce Donovan to the crowd and give members an opportunity to purchase the book.
Donovan said he met Scott in 1998, the year before Scott's death, and interviewed him many times, as well as interviewing family members and more than 200 people who knew the driver. It took the author more than 18 years to write the book and have it published.
''He was one of the courageous racial pioneer," Donovan said, of the man who raced during the 1950s and 1960s, "back in a time when it could be dangerous."
Donovan said Scott never got the recognition his efforts as a driver that he deserved, but continued to show "indomitable spirit" as he tried repeated to break the color barriers in racecar driving that kept him from ever being sponsored, or even accepted at some racetracks.
Donovan blames NASCAR officials for holding Scott's career back.
''I found, over and over again, that Wendell won a lot of support from white people ... (who) soon learned he was not there to make a political statement," Donovan said. "He just loved fast cars and driving."
Bill France, the force behind NASCAR's formation in 1947, was the main culprit in holding Scott back, Donovan claims, promising Scott in 1954 that he would be treated like the other drivers, while Scott still ran into "No blacks allowed" signs at raceways around the South.
Scott was banned at Darlington because of his race, Donovan said, and that made him "unsponsorable."
''The Big Three were not getting into a discrimination mess," Donovan said.
Donovan said his first meeting with Scott had him following the former driver around as he gathered up scrap radiators and took them to the junkyard.
''I wonder if anyone else who'd run in seven Daytona races woke up that morning wondering about the price of scrap radiators?" Donovan said.
Scott's youngest son, Michael, also addressed the crowd, talking about how his father did his best to see his sons got to the race tracks on the weekend - and back home in time for school on Monday. Obviously emotional about the recognition his father is receiving, he talked about how hard his father worked, often single-handedly rebuilding an engine so he could enter a race.
''He was my father, my friend, my idol," Michael Scott said. "I think about him every day."
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.