In 1961, Wendell Scott broke NASCAR’s color barrier, and became the first black man to race in the sport. Now, 50 years later, NASCAR says it is pushing for more minority inclusion, though many are wondering if it really means it.
Though many have come to see NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program as purely symbolic, its officials have long used it as evidence against any claims that minority and female crew members and drivers are not welcome in NASCAR
And while the sport’s officials can run off a relatively short list of black, Latino, or female drivers, critics are quick to point out that many of them are uncommon exceptions.
Danica Patrick, for example, is probably the sport’s most famous female driver, but she is backed by a lot of money, and has one major thing going for her. She’s a part-time employee of NASCAR’s most notable figure today, Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father was also a legend in the racing world.
The Latino example often used is Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia. Yet, Montoya proved himself before joining the Sprint Cup. He already had victories at the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, and the 1999 Championship Auto Racing Teams championship.
And for those like Scott and Mauricia Grant, becoming part of NASCAR doesn’t mean you’ll be treated well. Scott’s son, Wendell Scott Jr., has been a long-time opponent of the sport due to the injustices he says his father went through. The father was recently passed over as a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, which raised a number of eyebrows. When asked how he felt about it, he said, “Bitter puts it mildly. It’s a virtual certainty that Wendell Scott won’t go into the Hall of Fame in his wife’s or most of his children’s lifetime.”
Mauricia Grant had two clear obstacles when she joined NASCAR, her gender, and her skin color. Grant, who was terminated in 2007, filed a $225 million lawsuit that accused officials of racial and sexual discrimination. She claimed she was told she worked on “colored people time,” and witnessed an official make references to the Ku Klux Klan.
Still, NASCAR officials stand proud of their Drive for Diversity program.
“Drive for Diversity, and the young men and women who are benefitting from it today, owe much to Wendell Scott,” said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR’s managing director of public affairs. “Wendell was a racing trailblazer who opened the door for people like Ryan Gifford and Michael Cherry, and it’s an honor to be able to celebrate this anniversary in such a special way.”