A first NASCAR victory.
A historic moment.
A changing of the guard.
All of those statements can be used to describe Darrell Wallace Jr.’s victory last weekend in the NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway when the 20-year-old became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race since Wendell Scott’s victory in 1963 in Jacksonville, Fla.
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Accolades, tributes and history lessons aside, Scott’s son, Wendell Scott Jr., hopes Wallace simply enjoys the moment.
“My dad gave me the opportunity to race a few times, and that was my goal, to win a race,” Scott Jr. said. “And I discovered that when I tried to win a race from a historical perspective, I did worse.
“When they put that helmet on you, you jump in the car – in the old days they’d pound on the hood – that meant you were on your own.
“That’s when you got to become a racer and don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to enjoy the moment.”
Wallace, who drives the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, had been fast all season but had trouble finishing off strong runs. He was ninth in the series standings with four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes.
He obviously ecstatic after the victory – his first in 19 starts. However, Wallace seemed at times overwhelmed with the significance attached to his win.
“I just went out there and won the race. Then the remarks and stories and everything starts flowing in after about the history and the records set and Wendell Scott and all of it came in rushing after,” he said.
“I just go out there and try to do the best I can.”
While Wallace’s victory was a milestone in itself, it drew more attention because it came at a track located just 30 miles west of Scott’s hometown of Danville, Va., and the launching pad of his NASCAR career.
Scott’s lone NASCAR win came in what is now the Sprint Cup Series in December 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville. Scott at the time didn’t get to celebrate his victory – NASCAR didn’t recognize him as the winner until two years later as Buck Baker was initially credited with the victory.
Almost 50 years later, Wallace basked in the glow of his win in front of thousands of fans, confetti and a giant Grandfather clock, which is awarded to the winner.
“I forgot what it feels like to win. It’s been over a year. That’s tough,” Wallace said. “This one – I couldn’t even hold it together coming off (Turn) 4. I was in tears.”
Like most racers, when some time had passed, Wallace began refocusing on the path ahead, which includes three more races in the Truck series this season.
“This is one of many, I hope, and hopefully we can get something settled for next year and just keep trying to fight for Victory Lane,” Wallace said.
“I’ve learned a lot and I’ve still got three races to learn and if I can do it again next year, we should be going for that championship and (we’ll) be a hard one to beat.”
Franklin Scott, Scott’s Jr.’s brother, said he was confident Wallace’s win was just the first of a long career.
“We know he’s going to do well and we ask for fans and the media to support him, allow time for his ups and downs, because you know, in racing they will come,” he said.
“But stick with him.”