When we think of a Hall of Fame inductee, we usually think of outstanding performances and career achievements. There are champions, there are race winners, and there are legends. Few should be able to argue against the merits of one so honored, but we do.
For example, there is one inductee that did not have the career boasted by most of his peers. He did not perform as many seasons and did not achieve the successes realized by most of the others. Some believe his inclusion amongst the immortals had more to do with his ability to compete against adversity as much as those he faced on the field of battle. He not only represented those who loved him, but those who shared a common station in life, the same racial traits, and suffered the same prejudice. The fact he was able to compete when others were denied the opportunity, to achieve what others like him could only dream of doing, and to hopefully pave the way for others to succeed gave him entry into the hallowed hall as much as anything one might find in the record of his career.
Of course, I am referring to Jackie Robinson. When he entered Cooperstown in 1962, he could boast of just serving ten seasons in Major League Baseball. He had just 1518 hits, 137 home runs, and stole just 197 bases. When compared to the likes of Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, Gehrig and Williams, or the marks of Aaron, Mays, and Henderson after him, the stat sheet of Jackie Robinson is a rather modest one. However, what he represented when he arrived with the Dodgers at the age of 28 back in 1947, and what he was able to prove, and the pathway he created for those who followed go far beyond hits and runs and stolen bases.
Military service and then baseball’s color barrier contributed to his late start in the Show. Still, Robinson did not waste any time showcasing his talents when he got there. In those ten seasons, he was part of the 1955 World Series champions, played in six fall classics, was a six-time all-star, a Rookie of the Year, and a MVP.
Similar to Robinson’s situation, you did not see men of Wendell Scott’s racial background racing stock cars in the south in the 1950s. That changed on May 23, 1952 when those who ran the Danville, Virginia race of the Dixie circuit thought having a black man compete against the white boys would be a novelty. Scott did not win, he even heard a few boos, but he got hooked. Yet, when he then tried to enter a NASCAR event in one of the lower levels, he discovered that they were not looking for a novelty that day and Scott was denied entry.
Back to the rival circuit he went, winning his first race a dozen days after his career began. When he ran a NASCAR-sanctioned event in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1954 they paid $15 gas money to all the competitors, except for the one with the darkest skin pigmentation. When he asked NASCAR founder Bill France about that, he was told that he was a NASCAR member and from that point forward he would be treated as such. France reached into his own wallet and took out $30 to make amends.
Scott finally drove at NASCAR’s highest level at the age of 39. In his third season, on December 1, 1963, he made history by winning a Grand National event in Jacksonville, Florida. Probably due to the times, it was Buck Baker who got the trophy that day, even though it was shown that Scott won the race by two laps! His family eventually got the trophy, though it was not until 2010, twenty years after Scott’s passing. Still, it is his name, not Baker’s, in the record books as the winner that day.
Running on a shoestring budget, Wendell Scott ran “just” 495 Grand National events, a total that has him ranked 35th all-time. Over 13 seasons, Scott earned 147 Top Tens, just one less than Junior Johnson. Four times (1966-69) he ranked among the season’s Top Ten, the last time when he was 48 years of age. 182 men have won a Cup race since 1948, and Wendell Scott is among them. Not bad for someone who did not begin his Cup career until he reached the same age Dale Earnhardt Jr is today. Wendell Scott closed his Cup career at the age of 52 when he ran in the National 500 at Charlotte in the fall of 1973. He finished 12th.
Scott, along with Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Rex White and Joe Weatherly, will take their place among the legends in January. Meanwhile, as the World 600 takes center stage in Charlotte this weekend, we see that the nod for top driver this season goes to future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon by virtue of his win in Kansas. By awarding 22 additional points per win, we reward those who take the checkered flags while not resorting to gimmicks or Chases to determine who is “the” driver of 2014.
1 Jeff Gordon – 416 pts – 1 win
2 Kyle Busch – 395 – 1 win
3 Joey Logano – 390 – 2 wins
4 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 390 – 1 win
5 Carl Edwards – 389 – 1 win
6 Matt Kenseth – 379
7 Brad Keselowski – 348 – 1 win
8 Kevin Harvick – 346 – 2 wins
9 Denny Hamlin – 340 – 1 win
10 Jimmie Johnson – 340
11 Ryan Newman – 332
12 Greg Biffle – 328
13 Brian Vickers – 327
14 Kyle Larson – 318
15 Austin Dillon – 306
16 Kasey Kahne – 294
17 A.J. Allmendinger – 293
18 Paul Menard – 292
19 Marcos Ambrose – 288
20 Clint Bowyer – 282