Thursday, September 29, 2016

9/20/70: Wendell Scott’s 12th and final last-place finish came at Dover

On September 20, 1970, Wendell Scott picked up the 12th last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National Series career in the Mason-Dixon 300 at the Dover Downs International Speedway when his #34 1969 Ford lost the engine after 1 of 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Scott’s 444th series start, was his first since October 5, 1968, when his 1967 Ford lost an engine early in the Augusta 200 at the half-mile Augusta (Georgia) Speedway.  The run at Dover was Scott’s only last-place finish at a track that is still on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

The context of Scott’s accomplishments as an African-American racer in the days of Jim Crow are well-known, culminating in his induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.  What’s often overlooked, however, is that Scott was also perhaps one of NASCAR’s most successful owner-drivers of his day.

Among the ten longest winless streaks in NASCAR Sprint Cup history, seven were earned by independents who raced against Scott: J.D. McDuffie, Buddy Arrington, Neil Castles, Cecil Gordon, G.C. Spencer, Frank Warren, and Henley Gray.  In 495 starts over 13 seasons, Scott earned 20 Top Fives - more than McDuffie, Arrington, Warren, and Gray - and 147 Top Tens - more than six of them with the lone exception of Neil Castles.  Scott also averaged just one last-place run a season, ranking him beneath McDuffie, Spencer, Castles, and Gray in the LASTCAR standings.  And of course, there was the win at Jacksonville in 1963.  Though delayed in its recognition, it remains a victory that none of the seven claimed in a combined 3,806 attempts.

Scott was also a quick study, his aggressive driving style a perfect fit for short track racing.  He ran his first NASCAR race at Spartanburg, South Carolina on March 4, 1961, and earned his first Top Ten run in his ninth start at Norwood, Massachusetts on June 17.  His first Top Five came the next year, a 4th during the Arclite 200 at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway.  He took his first pole that July at the Savannah (Georgia) Speedway and finished 8th.  He rounded out the 1962 season 22nd in points and improved in the final standings for each of the next four seasons, securing a career-best 6th in 1966.  And for the next three seasons, Scott never fell out of the Top Ten in points.

In 1970, Scott missed the first four rounds of the season, but then picked up where he left off, earning three-straight Top Ten runs at Richmond, Rockingham, and Savannah.  But over the summer, the DNFs started to mount.  Twice he drove for Earl Brooks, a part-time racer from Scott’s native Virginia, but a busted wheel and a hard crash took him out of the running.  He then drove Plymouths for Don Robertson, who fielded a second car to join his full-time driver Jabe Thomas, but failed to finish five straight races.

Coming into Dover, then the 41st race on a 48-round schedule, Scott was back in his #34 Ford, looking for a turnaround.  Scott qualified next-to-last in the 36-car field, placing on the outside of Row 18 next to the Ray Nichels-prepared #99 1969 Dodge of Charlie Glotzbach.  Glotzbach managed to finish 3rd behind winner Richard Petty and runner-up Bobby Allison.  Scott, however, was already out, his day ended with a blown engine.  Jabe Thomas’ Plymouth lost his own motor the next time by.

Finishing 34th that day was another Virginian, 27-year-old John Kenney, whose transmission let go on the Bob Freeman-prepared #77 Ford.  Ten days later, Kenney would make his 11th and final Cup start at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, where he finished 12th.  33rd fell to Raymond Williams in Buster Davis’ #84 1969 Ford.  A rookie on the tour, Williams would make 93 starts through 1978 with a best finish of 7th in two 500-lappers at Bristol.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was another rookie, Watertown, New York driver Dick May.  May would make 185 Cup starts, the last of them at North Wilkesboro in 1985, when he was 54.

As it turned out, Scott was the only member of the Bottom Five to ever win a NASCAR race.

Scott finished the 1970 season 14th in points with nine Top Tens, including a season-best 6th at the Kingsport (Tennessee) Speedway on June 26.  Unfortunately, his struggles grew worse the rest of his career.  In 1972, when NASCAR scaled-back its schedule to 31 races, Scott made only six and ran no better than 16th.

The next year, Scott acquired a beautiful red-white-and-blue 1971 Mercury to race in the upcoming Winston 500 at Talladega.  Scott rolled off 58th in the incredible 60-car field (with another three, including Neil Bonnett, sent home), but on Lap 9 came disaster.  13th-place starter Ramo Stott lost the motor on the backstretch.  Scott spun to avoid him, but was soon collected by the rest of the field.  The driver’s side of Scott’s Mercury was completely destroyed, sheared away from the chassis.

Injuries from the crash, combined with the total loss of his final car, ultimately ended Scott’s driving career.  He made one more race at Charlotte, finishing 12th in Doc Faustina’s #5 Dodge.  Scott passed away in 1990 at age 69, but his legacy lives on in song, in film, and on the track.

*The #34 would not finish last in another Cup Series race until April 28, 1991, when Dick Trickle’s #34 Allen’s Glass Buick overheated after 12 laps of the Hanes 500 at Martinsville.

36) #34-Wendell Scott / 1 lap / engine
35) #25-Jabe Thomas / 2 laps / engine
34) #77-John Kenney / 6 laps / transmission
33) #84-Raymond Williams / 14 laps / vibration
32) #67-Dick May / 17 laps / oil leak

No comments: