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Scott's start, contributions hailed

- ThatsRacin.com Contributor
Saturday, Mar. 06, 2010

Cars will carry decals on Sunday commemorating Wendell Scott's first race in NASCAR's top series on March 4, 1961.

The track now known as Atlanta Motor Speedway had opened as Atlanta International Raceway about a year before. Scott borrowed a car, finished third and got $50.

He was the first – and only – African American to win a race at NASCAR’s top level. NASCAR and track officials initially denied Scott had won the 1963 race in Jacksonville, Fla.. He was later awarded the trophy and prize money.

"This is enormous for our family in so many ways," said Sybil Scott, daughter of the late driver. "He would want the young drivers coming up today to be inspired."

She says her father’s legacy lives through diversity efforts in stock car racing’s biggest league.

Among those joining her at the track Saturday was Michael Cherry, a 20-year-old with three years in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. A former model and child actor from Valrico, Fla., Cherry has posted 19 top-10 finishes the past two seasons at Motor Mile (Va.) Speedway and Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway.

He has carried Wendell Scott’s No. 34 since meeting the legendary driver’s son, Wendell Scott Jr., in 2008.

“I asked him if I could run his father’s number and he said it would be an honor. So we put away my personal ‘45’ and we’ve run it ever since,” Cherry said. “You got to look at your past. You’ve got to see who’s opened doors for you.”

Ryan Gifford, also a participant in the NASCAR program, visited Scott's family earlier this year as part of a reality television show.

"It really showed me what he went through to open the door for someone like myself," Gifford said. "I couldn't be more grateful."

The Associated Press and ThatsRacin.com editor Bob Henry contributed.

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