Many drivers in the early days of NASCAR had their start in moonshine running. Many had histories with families that had ties to racing or other high-adrenaline sports. Wendell Scott was no exception…he was a daredevil as a kid, a World War II veteran, and was busted in 1949 for hauling shine. But Scott was different in one major aspect: he was black. He started racing in the early 1950s and you can probably imagine how it went: NASCAR-sanctioned races were no-go deals, as no black drivers were allowed. When officials told him that they’d allow a white driver to run his car, he flat-out refused: “I told ’em weren’t no damn white boy going to drive my car.” He linked up with the Dixie Circuit, which raced at non-NASCAR tracks, sometimes as many as five events a week, and he’d get it front, back and center. The names, other drivers kicking the shit out of him on the track. He never retaliated, even though it wouldn’t be out of line. He didn’t want to stir up any more racially-based problems than he already was dealing with. Over time, Scott started to earn a reputation as a racer, someone who was there to drive, and not deal with the other sideline issues. There was a car, there was a checkered flag at the end, it was time to go for it. He raced through 1973, when injuries from a racing accident made the decision for him. During that time, he was the leading foot of change in NASCAR at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and even though he dealt with the rough end of the stick day in and day out, he pushed through.
I’m not diving into the politics of the current day. Things are toxic enough in the world right now without that. But what happened to Bubba Wallace yesterday was nothing short of shameful. A noose was left in the garage of the No. 43 team at Talladega, and you shouldn’t need an explanation to know why that is making headlines. A noose, in 2020, in the garage stall of the only black driver in NASCAR ranks right now, days after NASCAR officially banned Confederate symbols and flags at it’s tracks and events. You can do the math and see what happened, right?
NASCAR’s statement: “Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
And they should drum them out with full fanfare of shame. If NASCAR is going to actually be open and welcoming to all, they have to come down hard on the indivduals who were responsible for what is both a temper tantrum and a death threat wrapped up in one non-verbal message. While there were protests against NASCAR’s decision preceding the race, including a plane flying a banner that showed the Stars and Bars and “Defund NASCAR” on it, those protestors were outside of the track and were relatively benign. Whoever left that fucking noose in plain view wanted a message sent, and if there is any right with the world, they will get a message in return. A damn strong one.
I subscribe to the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman viewpoint on racial issues, specifically the line that ends with, “…here you are all equally worthless.” Phrase it however you want. Cut him and cut me, we bleed the same. I die, he dies, it’s the same. I’ve served with every race this Earth has to offer during my military time. You want to know when this shit ends, when things can simmer down and we can go back to being normal? I’ll give you a little bit of insight: fourteen months into a rotation, when everybody is eating the same barbecue off of the same cheap-ass grille and is drinking water from the same cooler after everybody spent the day busting their ass to earn their pay, cracking jokes and conversing, that’s when we’ll be good. That’s equality. It does happen.
Andrew Murstein, the co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, has summed it up best in my eyes: “You would like to think the country has changed for the better in the last 40-plus years. Unfortunately, in many ways, it hasn’t.”