Tuesday, April 19, 2011

50 years after first NASCAR start, Wendell Scott's still waiting

   Wendell Scott never got the trophy he won for his lone victory in NASCAR's Cup series.

   He's not getting an easy ride toward a nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, either.

   Another group of 25 nominations to the Hall were released on Tuesday night and again Scott's name was not among them. There have been 35 people nominated to the Hall since its inception and 10 inducted.

   And Scott remains in neither category. Why is Scott's omission so glaring?

   For one, he has been hailed by NASCAR officials time and again as a pioneer for African-Americans in the sport. He is the only African-American driver to win a race in NASCAR's national series. He made 495 starts at what is now the Cup level between 1961-73. He had 147 top-10s and one pole. The Danville, Va., native died in 1990 at age 69.

   On Dec. 1, 1963, Scott won the Cup race at Jacksonville, Fla. He was not announced as the winner of the race at the time as the race promoter did not want to stir racial tensions at the track. Buck Baker, the second-place driver, was declared the winner until NASCAR issued a correction a few days later.

   Based on statistics alone, Scott probably isn't worthy of Hall consideration, but his imprint left on the sport was much larger than his lone victory.

   Late last year, NASCAR in conjunction with Max Siegel Inc. took the idea of a docu-drama about Scott's life to ESPN. The network agreed to run it, and it was produced by the NASCAR Media Group and aired the night of this season's Daytona 500.

   "Wendell Scott’s legacy will live on forever as the man who broke NASCAR’s color barrier and whose courage and bravery paved the way for minorities to pursue careers in the world of motorsports,” Paul Brooks, senior vice president of NASCAR and president of NASCAR Media Group, said at the announcement of airing of the  special.
   Siegel was the executive producer of the film and founder of Revolution Racing, which today provides competitive race cars to further develop the skills and capabilities of minority drivers seeking to compete in NASCAR.

   In March, all Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars competing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were adorned with a commemorative decal bearing the image of Scott in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first start.

   Obviously, NASCAR believes Scott's legacy and contribution to the sport is worthy of high honors and recognition.

   The argument here is not that Scott should already be inducted into the Hall, although I think he should. Scott can't even get nominated - named someone worthy of possible induction.

   That is wrong.

   In its news release announcing the airing of the Scott special, ESPN said: "Scott, one of the sport’s most iconic pioneers who is often referred to as the Jackie Robinson of motorsports, paved the way for minorities and women."

   It’s sadly ironic that when it comes to the Hall of Fame, Scott still can't reach the starting line.

Jeff Burton, sponsor re-up with RCR

   Jeff Burton is the latest Sprint Cup Series driver to re-sign with his current team in the last week.

   Richard Childress Racing announced on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement on a contract extension with Burton as well his the sponsor of his No. 31 Chevrolet team, Caterpillar. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

   Burton and the No. 31 team qualified for the Chase for the Cup in 2010 and won one of this season's 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.
   Caterpillar has been a sponsor in NASCAR since 1993. Cat was a team sponsor in the Nationwide Series from 1995 to 1996 before moving to the Cup Series in 1997. Its relationship with RCR began in 2009.

   In 591 career Cup starts, Burton, 44, has 21 wins, 128 top-five and 237 top-10 finishes. He also has won six poles.

   NASCAR veteran Greg Biffle re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing last week.

Jeff Gordon's ideas to help speed up restrictor-plate qualifying

   After winning his 70th career Sprint Cup Series pole last weekend at Talladega, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon offered some suggestions on how to make what has become a dull, long process of qualifying cars at Daytona and Talladega into something a little more interesting.

   Here were this ideas:

   "It felt like I could walk faster than I was going out there. The one thing that I mentioned to NASCAR when we were talking about it. It is the proper restrictor plate to be on the car for the race. I don't see, and I know that I am throwing out some things that our engine builders probably will not like, but I just don't see why we're not running a different restrictor plate for qualifying or a different spoiler. Something that NASCAR hands us that is the same for everybody to make it more interesting.

   "To me, that qualifying session was just a snoozer. It is because we are doing two laps by ourselves doing 177 mph. That had nothing to do with me. Anybody could drive that car at that speed. So let's make it a little more interesting. I don't see why we can't get up there into the 200 mile-per-hour range qualifying. I think they have done an excellent job with these cars making them safer; finding out what they do in the wind tunnel to stay on the ground when they turn around sideways say if a tire were to blow at that speed for whatever reason ... you ran over something.

   "I would like to see us qualify faster just to make it more entertaining for the fans as well as for us the drivers. We're not doing anything out there right now. It would be fun to go to Talladega or Daytona and the driver plays a little bit more of a role."

   Sounds like some good advice to me.