The History of African-Americans in NASCAR

Bill Lester

 Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images 

African-Americans comprise just 8 percent of NASCAR's fan base. Programs like Drive for Diversity, which started in 2004, aim to expand the reach of historically underrepresented groups in the sport through a series of internships, pit-training programs, and driver courses through Rev Racing. But even its supporters concede that Drive for Diversity has met with limited success. And, as a September 2017 CNN report shows, NASCAR remains largely an insular sport.

The following are a few notable African-American NASCAR drivers:

Wendell Scott

Wendell Scott became the first African-American to start a NASCAR race when he took the green flag on March 4, 1961, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But Scott had engine problems that day and did not finish.​​

Not only was Scott the first and most prolific of all African-Americans in the sport but also the most successful. He went on to start a total of 495 races in NASCAR's top series from 1961 through 1973. On December 1, 1963, he took the checkered flag at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, the first and only African American to have a NASCAR win until his record was broken in 2013.

Scott also managed four consecutive top-10 points finishes. He finished no worse than 10th in the final standings from 1966 to 1969.

Willy T. Ribbs 

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 20, 1986. That was the only race that he finished in his short career, 13 laps down in 22nd.

Ribbs started two more races that year for DiGard racing, but he suffered an engine failure in both.

Bill Lester 

Bill Lester got one Busch Series start in 1999, but didn't land a full-time NASCAR ride until the NASCAR Truck series in 2002.

He 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.

Lester began racing sports cars in the Rolex Grand Am series in 2011, and on May 14 of that year became the first African-American driver to win in any Grand-Am division. He has since retired from racing.

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. 

In early 2018, Bubba Wallace became the first African-American to race in the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott in 1969. At the same time, he became the first full-time African-American driver in the top NASCAR series since 1971. His second-place finish at Daytona was the highest finish ever by an African-American in the Daytona 500, and it was the highest finish by an African-American in a NASCAR top series in 47 years.

Born on October 3, 1993, in Mobile, Alabama, Wallacestarted racing cars at 9 years old. He launched his NASCAR career in 2010 with regional races in the K&N Pro Series East, and nationally in May 2012 with an XFinity Series race at Iowa Speedway in May, where he came in ninth. In October 2013, he broke Wendell Scott's record with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Martinsville Speedway.

Other career highlights include finishing sixth in the XFinity Series 2016 season opener at Daytona and making four starts for Richard Petty Motorsports as a relief driver in 2017 in the Monster Energy Cup Series.