Craig Murto: NASCAR 2015 Hall class all winners

The NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2015 were all winners, and the induction ceremony was top-notch.

Wendell Scott, Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Rex White and Joe Weatherly all were inducted into the Hall, the ceremony broadcast live for the first time by NBC Sports. The hosts were informed and professional, the speakers were entertaining, and as with any live broadcast there were surprises (such as Rex White losing his footing onstage).

Top NASCAR drivers made the introductions for each inductee. Brad Keselowski had his turn on stage discussing Joe Weatherly.

Weatherly, known as the “clown prince of racing,” won NASCAR’s top prize in 1962 and 1963, the only years he ran full seasons. He drove for Bud Moore in 1962, but due to finances Moore couldn’t run a full season in ’63, so Weatherly wound up driving for nine car owners on his way to the title.

Kevin Harvick made the introductions for Rex White, the 1960 champion. White, who mostly drove his own equipment and competed successfully against factory teams, was known as a short track ace, and when asked before the ceremony which track was his favorite, he answered, “The one in Manassas, Virginia.” Hopefully you visited the track before it closed.

Kasey Kahne introduced Bill Elliott, the 1988 champion and 16-time winner of the Most Popular Driver Award.

Tony Stewart made the intro for Fred Lorenzen, the Illinois racer who moved to the South to become NASCAR’s “golden boy.” Lorenzen became the first NASCAR driver to earn $100,000 in a season when he did it in 1963. The 1965 Daytona 500 winner retired in 1967 at the age of 33.

Jeff Gordon performed the introductions for Wendell Scott, the Danville racer who became the first African-American to win in NASCAR’s top division when he scored the victory in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963.

But the promoter, fearing a riot, awarded the win to second-place finisher Buck Baker. It took two years before NASCAR officially acknowledged Scott the winner, and his family didn’t receive the trophy until just a few years ago.

Scott’s racing career began in the late 1940s in Virginia and North Carolina. He won more than 100 feature races at local short tracks, and in 1959 was NASCAR’s Virginia State Champion. He first raced in NASCAR’s top division in 1961.

In the days of Jim Crow laws, Scott battled incredible adversity to compete at the highest level. Many observers, including Richard Petty, state that had Scott better equipment he would have won more than a single race. He ran 495 races in NASCAR’s top division between 1961 and 1973, scored 147 top-10 finishes and finished in the top 10 in points in four straight seasons, 1966 through 1969.

Scott was inducted for his integrity and perseverance against incredible odds, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. But there is a misconception that’s often spread about Scott, which is that he was the first African-American to compete at NASCAR’s top level. That’s not true; Wendell Scott was the third African-American driver in NASCAR.

A driver named Charlie Scott competed on the Daytona Beach course in 1956 and finished 19th. He won $75 for his efforts. There is no record of him competing in any other events. But even he wasn’t the first African-American to compete at NASCAR’s top level.

That achievement belongs to Elias Bowie, from all accounts a very flamboyant character who raced a Cadillac in a NASCAR event in San Mateo, Calif., in 1955. A World War II veteran who died in 2005, Bowie owned a number of transportation companies and, according to newspaper accounts at the time, had the largest pit crew at the track. The race was Bowie’s only start in NASCAR’s top division.

Elias Bowie and Charlie Scott did not have the longevity or success of Wendell Scott. And the fact that Wendell Scott was not the first African-American to race at the top level of the sport does not diminish his achievements. But as we recognize his achievements in the Hall of Fame, let’s not forget the African-American drivers who came before him, and especially Elias Bowie, the first African-American to race at NASCAR’s highest level.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame 2015 induction ceremony was a success. Hopefully every year’s ceremony will be as entertaining. Now, let’s get to Daytona and race!

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.