Wendell Scott 1961-1973
Wendell Scott became the very first African-American to start a NASCAR race when he took the green flag on March 4th, 1961 in Spartanberg, SC. Unfortunately, Wendell had engine problems that day and did not finish.
Not only was Wendell Scott the first and most prolific of all African-Americans in the sport but also the most successful. Scott went on to start a total of 495 races in NASCAR's top series from 1961 through 1973. Wendell is also the only African-American to date to score a win. On December 1st 1963 he took the checkered flag first at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, FL.
Wendell Scott also managed four consecutive top ten points finishes. Scott finished no worse than tenth in the final standings from 1966 to 1969.
Willy T. Ribbs 1986
There were no African-Americans in NASCAR from 1973 until Willy T. Ribbs started three races in 1986. Willy's first race was at North Wilkesboro Speedway on April 20th, 1986. That was the only race that he finished in his short career as he finished thirteen laps down in 22nd.
Willy T Ribbs started two more races that year for DiGard racing but he suffered engine failure in both of those races.
Bill Lester 2006-?
Bill Lester got one Busch Series start in 1999 but didn't land a full-time NASCAR ride right away. Lester started racing full-time in the NASCAR Truck series in 2002.
Bill Lester finally made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup series start in 2006 when Bill Davis put him in a car for the 2006 Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
Bill Lester is currently racing sports cars in the Rolex Grand Am series. There is no word as to Bill Lester's future in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
What's Next For NASCAR
NASCAR wants to encourage more minority involvement in racing. This would help them to reach a huge portion of the population that has not yet embraced the sport. But in over fifty years of racing they have not made much progress.
NASCAR needs to focus more on attracting children to the sport to foster the next generation of NASCAR stars. Much like the efforts to attract women, minority recruitment requires NASCAR to get them hooked while they are young. Youth programs are the key to diversity.
It has been an uphill battle but the cause is worthwhile. Diversity of all kinds in NASCAR would help keep the sport healthy and growing.