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Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story by…

Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story

by Brian Donovan

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This book offers a significant look at US race relations in the 1950's through early 1970's, from a unique and informative perspective.

Wendell Scott first raced in the lower levels of NASCAR in the early 1950's, shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But whereas Robinson had key support from major figures in MLB, Scott was pretty much on his own.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Brian Donovan presents a carefully-documented, balanced account of the career of the pioneering black NASCAR driver. He explores the complex social, political, and financial issues that surrounded the fortunes and misfortunes of Scott's racing career. We see bigoted villains; some heroes of fair play; a lot of people who simply followed the winds of their own financial and political self-interests; and many whose motivations and intentions are impossible to know for certain, and who may have deceived themselves about the fairness of Scott's treatment. Certainly the rural southern roots of NASCAR played a part in the pervasive difficulties Scott encountered -- even white drivers from outside the South often encountered a certain bias in those days, though not nearly to the degree and intensity that Scott experienced.

Donovan also chronicles aspects of Scott and his family away from the track, including his son Wendell, Jr.'s struggle with drug addiction; and Scott's disillusioning encounter with Hollywood. (The movie Greased Lightning was loosely -- and I mean very loosely -- based on his career.) And he attempts to analyze what Scott accomplished in his career:

He had established his niche in history as the racial pioneer who broke a tough sport's color barrier in a hostile time. He had become a favorite of many thousands of fans. He had won respect and affection from colleagues who included some of the world's best racers. He remains the only black driver ever to win at NASCAR's top level. And while he didn't go into racing for political or racial reasons, the bravery, hard work, and uncompromising grit he displayed over twenty-one years as a racer certainly helped to soften many people's prejudices in an era when American values stood at a decisive turning point. ( )
  tymfos | Nov 27, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
If you are into car racing, this is a must read book. Great history or a not often heard of driver. It's important to remember all the drivers who have made the sport what it is, no matter their race. Wonderful writing, great read.
  peppergrape | Jul 23, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Brian Donovan, Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story (Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2008)

Wendell Scott was an African-American mechanic from Danville, Virginia, who just wanted to drive race cars. In the mid-1950, stock car racing was still very close to moonshine-running -- a business Scott was also in -- and very, very white. Unlike Jackie Robinson, Scott was never pushed forward by the management in his sport; any recognition he got was due to hard work, good driving, and occasional support by other drivers and a growing base of fans in Virginia and the Carolinas. Though he was a pioneer in the desegregation of American sports, Scott never promoted himself that way or played "the race card" with race organizers or other drivers. He just wanted a fair shot and recognition for what he achieved on the track.

Hard Driving can be painful to read, because while it's the story of a man living out his dream -- Scott was licensed to drive in NASCAR, the first African-American to establish a career in that organization -- it is also a long tale of threats, snubs, and frustration. Author Brian Donovan acknowledges that Bill France, the man behind the rise of NASCAR, gave Scott his assurance that the only black driver in the circuit would not be treated any differently than his white competitors. However, France was not able to deliver on that promise, and many of his associates were vociferously opposed Scott's chances at success.

Ultimately, the lack of corporate sponsorship doomed Scott's efforts. Although he occasionally received help from major players in the stock car world like the Johnson Brothers and Moody Holman, Scott was always hindered by lack of funding or crew -- he was known to jump out of the car during pit stops and help replace his own tires, and often worked through the nights on his engine while other drivers could rest. The move from a largely dirt track circuit, where Scott's driving talent could make up for inadequate vehicles, to the new super speedways like Darlington and Talladega, made raw power a prerequisite for a competitive car. A massive pileup in an overcrowded race at the latter track destroyed Scott's only powerful car and nearly killed him, effectively ending his career as he struggled to pay off the loans on the wrecked car.

Donovan, a race driver himself, gives a very sympathetic portrayal of Scott, while freely admitting Scott's marital difficulties, the drug problems of his son, and the way he mortgaged nearly every security his family had to pursue a quixotic goal. Readers may be pleased by the gentlemanly conduct of popular drivers like Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett, and shocked at the intolerance of other big names. It is an inside look at part of racing history that NASCAR may rather not be publicized. (This review first appeared in "Carolina Journal", Raleigh, NC)
  younghus | Jan 16, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Grew up following NASCAR with my brother, but haven't really followed it much at all for several years. WHen I saw this offered on the Early Reviewers list, I had to request it. Great read and I think it might have an audience for those with no interest in racing. It's greatest asset is in the fact that it doesn't try to polish Wendell Scott into a infallible here. It tells his story as a man, warts and all, with a hard plugging determination not to be a pioneer but to just do a job that he wanted to do. ( )
  manatree | Nov 1, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm not a huge NASCAR fan. I feel compelled to state that up front. I've watched some over the years, and when it was more of a regional sport and the cars looked more like something you could actually buy, it was more fun for me. As NASCAR has increased in popularity, it has decreased in interest for me, personally.

After reading Donovan's biography of Wendell Scott, I was left with the same set of feelings I had when I visited the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. First, an appreciation for the stories of what Men of Passion were willing to do to chase their dreams and do the things they loved. The stories of Men and the inspiration that could be had from their stories of overcoming overwhelming odds.

Secondly, I feel shame. Shame that other white people could, would and did some of the awful things to another person simply because of their color. Wendell Scott never set out to be a trailblazer or make a racial statement. Wendell Scott wanted to drive race cars for a living. That he chose to do this in the Red Neck world of NASCAR, in the Deep South with Jim Crow in full flower is a testament to his desire to do what he wanted to do.

Donovan does a fine job of showing the trials and tribulations that Scott faced, the overt racism both in and out of NASCAR, and the good and less than good people that helped or hindered Scott as he chased his dream. He also shows a side of NASCAR, both past and present to some degree, that they would rather not have aired. Namely that NASCAR was racist, that promises made to Scott by founder Bill France weren't honored, that NASCAR did nothing to ensure that Scott was treated fairly. He won a race in Jacksonville, and to avoid him getting a peck from the track Beauty Queen (naturally a white woman), they jobbed him out of the victory celebration at the time. It was later awarded to him, with no fanfare, and blown off to a scoring error. A fiction NASCAR still stands behind.

Wendell Scott was hardly perfect, but who of us is? He was the first of four (4!) Black Drivers to have driven in NASCAR races, and while never a huge winner, he was a competitive driver for quite some time. Donovan presents not only the story of Wendell Scott, but the story of NASCAR, Civil Rights struggles, political skullduggery and institutional racism. He addresses the fictions of the "Greased Lightning" movie starring Richard Pryor and Scott's lack of concern for accurary. He paints a solid picture of a man trying to do something he loved, and how he overcame and dealt with obstacles. A highly recommded biography and history book. ( )
  yingko | Aug 12, 2008 |
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