In the early days of NASCAR racing, Jacksonville hosted Grand National Series races on six different occasions at Speedway Park, a half-mile track on the corner of Lenox Avenue and Plymouth Street on the Westside.
Fans attending these races got to see victories by early NASCAR stars like Herb Thomas and Lee Petty – but those who attended the city’s most historically notable race likely didn’t even understand its significance at the time.
On December 1, 1963, Speedway Park hosted the 1964 Jacksonville 200. For almost half of the race, Lee Petty’s son Richard – who would soon become a NASCAR star in his own right – led the way. But in the later laps, Wendell Scott from Danville, VA, took the lead and didn’t let go.
Scott, a World War II veteran and the only Black driver on the NASCAR circuit at the time, had joined NASCAR in 1954 and often placed in the top ten but had never won a race when he entered the Jacksonville 200, in which he drove a ’62 Chevrolet.
Scott won the race with a two-lap lead, but the checkered flag never waived for him. Instead, second-place driver Buck Baker was declared the immediate winner and given the trophy, while an irate Scott – who had kept driving for two extra laps out of confusion over the lack of checkered flag – was dubbed the third-place finisher.
Hours later, after the crowd of 5,000 had dispersed and Baker had run off with the trophy, NASCAR officials declared Scott the true winner and blamed the post-race fiasco on a “clerical error.” As a result, Scott is officially credited with completing 202 laps in the 200-lap race.
Scott received the $1,000 prize money for the race, but the trophy was never returned to him.
The win in Jacksonville was the first for Scott, as well as the first win for any Black driver in a NASCAR series race. It remained the only win for a Black driver until Bubba Wallace’s victory at the 2013 Kroger 200.
Scott retired in 1973 with one career victory and dozens of top-ten finishes. Greased Lightning, a movie based on his life starring Richard Pryor, was released in 1977. He passed away in 1990 and was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014.
Though Jacksonville’s NASCAR history was certainly short-lived, it did host Scott’s big victory – an important moment both for the sport and for racial equality.