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Sometimes it takes a while to recognize achievements in sports. And sometimes, it is baked into the culture of the event or sanctioning body. And every so often, after years of commentary and a sanctioning body’s inertia, it gets fixed. That happened this week with the first and only black cup winner in NASCAR history.

The story of Wendell Scott is well known. In 1963 he won the Jacksonville 200 race by two laps. It wasn’t even close. But NASCAR couldn’t see itself giving the trophy to a black man, so it gave it to second-place winner Buck Baker. 

NASCAR race officials saw Scott won but didn’t change the record books for two more years

NASCAR driver Wendell Scott
Wendell Scott works on one of his Modified stock cars in the 1950s. Scott would go on to run 495 NASCAR Cup races and is the only African-American driver to win a Cup race | ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Supposedly, later that night race officials smoked over the lap charts and saw the “mistake.” So a month after winning the race he was given the winner’s purse. But the record was not changed for another two years. 

As great as it would have been to give Scott a victory lane celebration after the fact, that never happened. He died in 1990 without the satisfaction of that simple gesture. But the idea that NASCAR should right the wrong has not died. 

NASCAR finally gave the Scott family the winning trophy almost 60 years later

NASCAR driver Wendell Scott
Darrell Wallace, Jr. celebrates with Wendell Scott, Jr. in Victory Lane after Wallace Jr’s victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 on October 25, 2014 | Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Finally, at the regular-season finale at Daytona, to celebrate what would have been Scott’s 100th birthday as well as his 1963 victory, the trophy was awarded to his family. It didn’t go unnoticed that at this same closing event NASCAR awarded the 2021 championship trophy to Kyle Larson.

You might remember Larson. He was suspended just last season over using the N-word during a virtual race. The optics were more than a little embarrassing. 

So, after almost 60 years, why does the trophy matter? “It matters because my father earned it and it was something he had to labor on,” son Frank Scott said. “He always wanted to get his trophy and he predicted that he would get his trophy one day. He said, ‘I may not be here with you all, but one day I’ll get my trophy.’

Why it is important

Franklin Scott, son of Wendell Scott
Franklin Scott talks with the media about his father, Wendell Scott at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 21, 2014 | Grant Halverson/NASCAR via Getty Images

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“It’s important because I see the growth in NASCAR and I see the growth in diversity that didn’t use to exist, and I think that’s something that this will lay a really solid foundation to build on. Not saying they don’t have a foundation now, but … we got it right. When you learn better, you do better. It’s been a while, but we’re enthusiastic about it. We’re not getting stuck in the past.”

So, the recognition Scott justly deserved was finally acknowledged by NASCAR. It is one small step for inclusion and helping to offset some of NASCAR’s past transgressions.