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The First African-American NASCAR Driver: It Wasn't Wendell ScottAn Opinion
April 18, 2008
By Rebecca Gladden
Scott was a true racer - the first and only African-American driver ever to win in the Grand National/Winston Cup series.
That victory came in 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in a race which also featured Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson, and other top NASCAR stars of the day.
Over the course of his 13-year career, Scott competed in 495 Cup races from 1961 to 1973. He posted 20 top-5 and 147 top-10 finishes including his win, and finished in the top 10 in points three times - sixth in 1966, and ninth in both 1968 and 1969.
Wendell Scott was the first African-American NASCAR driver to race at the Cup level on a long-term basis, but historical sources which dig a little deeper typically list Charlie Scott (no relation to Wendell), as the first African-American driver ever to compete in a Cup race.
A 2008 article on NASCAR.com states, "Charlie Scott will go down in history as the first African-American driver to make a NASCAR race. He competed on the Daytona Beach road course in 1956 in a Kiekhaefer Chrysler. When the checkered waved, Scott found himself in 19th place, earning $75 dollars for his efforts."
That was Charlie Scott's only race, and it occurred on February 26, 1956.
I recently came across an interesting bit of information that may change NASCAR history: A page from the August 1, 1955, edition of the San Mateo (CA) Times newspaper, with an article about that weekend's NASCAR race at Bay Meadows Speedway.
The 250-lap Grand National Series race was held on July 31, 1955, on the one-mile San Mateo dirt track. It featured several NASCAR stars of the time, including Lee Petty, Marvin Panch, Buck Baker, Ed Negre (making his Cup series debut), and Tim Flock -- the race winner, who also won the Grand National title that year.
Finishing 28th that day in a field of 34 cars, in front of 15,000 fans, was Elias Bowie, making his first and only NASCAR Cup appearance.
Elias Bowie was African-American.
According to relatives, Mr. Bowie was something of a pioneer in areas besides racing. He owned several transportation companies in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, CA, primarily jitney buses and taxi cabs, at a time when it was still rare for African-Americans to own businesses.
The race in which Bowie competed was marred by several accidents, though no serious injuries resulted. "(The) most spectacular crash came when a tire hurtled from the car of Carl Hammill of Sacramento as it went into the south turn," reads the article. "The car flipped over and spun helplessly like a turtle on its back. Hammill crawled out unhurt." Additionally, "Bill Amick of Portland, Ore. and Allen Adkins of Fresno both went through the fence early, but were unhurt."
Mr. Bowie, by all accounts a colorful character who loved Cadillacs and always wore his fedora when he drove, proved to be just as entertaining in the NASCAR race according to the newspaper account. "He had the largest pit crew, topped by a lanky double-jointed chap in green fatigue uniform. He also had provided a full tank car of Mobil Oil gas. In spite of (or because of) these precautions, Bowie completed the race."
Bowie's name, credited as Eliso Bowie, and race participation is listed on the authoritative racing statistics website, Racing-Reference.info, which contains the results from every Strictly Stock, Grand National, Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, Sprint Cup, Busch Series, Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck Series race ever run.
Interestingly, Bowie was a descendent of James Bowie, free man of color (1795-1832), whose story can be found here: www.jamesbowiefmc.com.
While neither Charlie Scott nor Elias Bowie achieved the success or longevity of Wendell Scott in NASCAR racing, the 1955 San Mateo Times newspaper article seems to indicate that it is, in fact, Elias Bowie who deserves at least a mention as the first-ever African-American NASCAR driver.