Wendell Scott was a taxi driver, an Army mechanic during World War II, and a moonshine runner before he began racing professionally. Promoters at the Danville raceway approached Scott in 1952 about racing there with hopes of increasing African-American attendance at their events. He finished third and started racing on the Virginia circuit, where he became a popular driver despite the racism he faced on the track. In 1959, Scott won the Sportsman Division championship at Richmond's Southside Speedway and NASCAR's Virginia State Sportsman Championship. He moved into NASCAR's major division in 1961.
During 13 seasons, Scott raced in 495 NASCAR Grand National (later Cup Series) events with 147 top-ten finishes, all as an independent, unsponsored driver. He won one checkered flag, in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 1, 1963, but was denied the opportunity to publicly celebrate his only Grand National victory when officials scored him a lap down and in second place. He contested the decision and hours later NASCAR overturned the ruling, citing a scoring error. Although Scott never accepted the explanation, he handled the slight with dignity, as he did in numerous other instances of discrimination that he faced in his personal and professional life.
A racing accident in Alabama forced Scott to retire from competition in 1973. His path-breaking career was not fully recognized until after his death, and he was posthumously named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1999), the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame (2000) and the NASCAR Hall of Fame (2015). The Wendell Scott Foundation honors his memory by providing educational opportunities for at-risk youth and addressing economic inequalities in African-American communities.
2023 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History honoree, Library of Virginia and Dominion Energy. 2011 African American Trailblazers honoree, Library of Virginia.