Thursday, October 23, 2014

History of 34

L

ike that of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball for generations of African-American and minority athletes to follow in his footsteps, there was a legendary sportsman by the name of Wendell Scott who beat the odds and did the same in the sport of auto racing. Wendell Scott, who bore the number 34 on his race car, had a goal to win and possessed the drive and determination to accomplish that goal, despite all of the challenges he faced in the sport.

In the movie Greased Lighting, the life of Wendell Scott was portrayed by comedian Richard Pryor. The film journeys into the life of Mr. Scott, and through the portrayal, one begins to understand the life and struggle that a single man had to go through in order to reach his dreams. Without receiving significant backing from car manufacturers and corporations, Scott funded everything out of his own pocket. Scott often raced much slower than competitors, just to allow his equipment to last and earn a check at the end of the day. Through the kindness of others in the garage, Scott was able to run used parts from the likes of people like Ned Jarrett and Rex White.

 

Working so hard to win, Scott finally got the chance in 1963 at the Jacksonville Speedway. This would not be without controversy. Taking care of his equipment, Scott was able to lap the entire field twice after taking the lead. However, when it came time for the NASCAR official to wave the checkered flag, nothing happened. For two laps, Scott drove around waiting for the flag, only to have it waved for another driver by the name of Buck Baker – who was running second, two laps down. Baker celebrated in victory lane, kissed the trophy queen and took home the hardware as Scott looked on in total disgust. Hours after the blatant error and Baker’s celebration, NASCAR declared Wendell Scott the official winner. He received the $1,000 check for first place, but not the trophy. In fact, 47 years after the win, Scott’s family was presented the trophy that their late father was never able to see.

Racing for 13 seasons, Scott’s career came to an end, following a devastating wreck at the legendary Talladega Superspeedway in 1973. After selling off all that he owned and putting himself in major debt to purchase a brand new Mercury racer, Scott now faced career-threatening injuries and had a race car that was demolished to pieces. Scott went back to his hometown of Danville, Virginia, but never gave up his passion and dream. In 1990, the heroic pioneer passed away at the age of 69.

Still to this day, Wendell Scott remains the only African-American to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. His legacy is long-lived. The number 34 was then passed down to yet another pioneering gentleman by the name of Bobby Norfleet who was viewed by many as a fierce competitor. Known for his mechanical genius and love for motorsports, Mr. Norfleet founded Bobby Norfleet Racing, Inc., and has been around racing for over 25 years, starting out in Motorcycle Racing and then onto Drag Racing. In 1992, he took his racing career to the next level and began competing in NASCAR. Mr. Norfleet was the first African- American to bring a minority based company into motorsports as a major sponsor.

Norfleet has built a solid reputation for being able to evaluate motorsports equipment and technical problematic issues that often arise in the sport. Mr. Norfleet is constantly called upon for his expertise and knowledge of engine cost, quality and ingenuity. The NASCAR Diversity Program today is a direct result of an initiative that Mr. Norfleet led back in 2000. After serious training and coaching, Mr. Norfleet has passed on the historic number to his eldest daughter, Tia Norfleet. Today she is taking the number to higher heights and around the world, while keeping the legacy and its significance alive. “To me, the number 34 represents the struggle, the pain, victory, the adventure and a fierce urgency of now and that’s why I’m working so hard to make it in this sport. When kids see me or the number, I want them to know that they can do anything they set their mind to,” stated Tia Norfleet.