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State and local leaders gathered today to dedicate a section of the Danville Expressway in memory of Danville native son and NASCAR legend and Hall of Fame driver Wendell O. Scott Sr.
Signs are in place marking the 8.5-mile section from U.S. 29 Business at the state line to the northern city limits as the Wendell O. Scott, Sr. Memorial Highway.
“Growing up in southern Virginia, I had many opportunities to experience NASCAR at its heyday,” recalled Bertram Dodson Jr., a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “Wendell Scott was, and in many ways remains, an enigma in this sport. He fought racial prejudice throughout his life and career.”
Dodson, speaking on behalf of Gov. Ralph Northam and Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, noted that Scott, who died in 1990 at the age of 69, served in the segregated Army in Europe during World War II. When Scott decided to race, he was turned away at a number of NASCAR tracks because of his color.
“He did not give up,” Dodson said. “Mr. Scott rose through the regional ranks and competed with many other legends in the sport. …. Mr. Scott’s story was the inspiration for movies, books, song and other drivers.”
Dodson also recognized the ongoing work of The Wendell Scott Foundation, which exposes youths in underserved communities to educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math and cultural enrichment activities.
“The foundation continues to make great strives through its various programs,” Dodson said. “I hope that some of those students will look to the Virginia Department of Transportation, Aviation and other state agencies as a career.”
Mayor Alonzo Jones said the story of Scott’s life and the work of the foundation is one of breaking barriers.
“Three years ago, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Wendell Scott, there were words spoken that night by his son, Frank, that I will never forget,” Jones said. “Frank shared with everyone that there were two words that were forbidden to use growing up in the Scott household. Those words were 'can't' and 'never.' Those words serve as a light for a path for all to follow. So, it is only fitting that we gather today to commemorate the life and legacy of Wendell Scott Sr. and applaud the work of the Wendell Scott Foundation.”
Warrick Scott, founder and CEO of the Wendell Scott Foundation, said his grandfather was a source of inspiration for all.
“He has inspired us to take ‘can’t’ and turn to ‘can do,’” Scott said. “This day is all about celebrating the ‘can.’ This is the recipe for the work that we do (with the foundation). We will forever stay committed to serving the community.”
Del. Danny Marshall added, "Wendell Scott's legacy is a life lesson that encourages each person to be the best that you can be in whatever you do. When people see the memorial signs along the highway, they will ask about Wendell Scott and his story will live on."
Sen. Bill Stanley said it is fitting that a road be named in honor of Wendell Scott Sr. for a road is moving forward at all times and never backward.
“That certainly was Wendell Scott’s vision, his action and his deed. In every word that they (the Scott family) speak and every action that they take, the spirit of Wendell Scott Sr. lives in them -- and through them into us. Wendell Scott was not just a great Virginian. He was a great American. We should hope that we all have a little bit of Wendell Scott in us.”
Scott was the first African-American driver to win at NASCAR's highest level and the first to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where he joined Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Joe Weatherly and Rex White in the 2015 class. The class was the sixth in the history of the Hall of Fame.
Scott retired from racing in 1973 after an injury suffered during a race in Talladega, Ala., ending a 13-year career at NASCAR’s top level that included 20 top-five and 147 top-10 finishes in 495 starts.
Scott also enjoyed a prolific career that spanned well beyond NASCAR’s premier series. In 1959, he won both the NASCAR Sportsman Division Virginia championship and the Sportsman Division championship at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Va. In 1957, Scott finished third in the Virginia standings behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett.