I did not plan on writing another column this morning.
In fact, as I was tossing and turning, glancing at the clock and vaguely concluding it would be ridiculous to get up that early, I thought I might be dreaming when I thought I heard something about some incident occurring at Talladega Superspeedway.
There wasn’t even a race. It was rained out. Why would there be an item on the early-morning news other than “oh, by the way, the NASCAR race was rained out”?
I’ve been a NASCAR enthusiast ever since I figured out what it was. Sometimes I think I should just stop paying attention, but I love racing too much, and I’ve got a whole life invested in it. I could no more give it up than I could the love of barbecue.
About 50 years ago, at a NASCAR Grand National (now Cup) race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, I met Wendell Scott. I think I had my picture taken with him, but my brother still has such a picture, which I know because he posted it on Facebook a couple years ago. I don’t know what happened to most of those photos, but they were once mixed up with dozens of others in a shoe box at my mother’s house, which once was my house. I distinctly remember the Kodak Instamatic photos of me with Richard Petty and Tiny Lund. I was wearing a homemade football jersey made from cutting iron-on patches into iron-on numbers. It was a black sweatshirt that had a crude “64” ironed on the front, back and shoulders and later stitched on at Sunshine Cleaners when the numbers started to peel off.
Wendell Scott wasn’t booed during pre-race introductions. In fact, he got a warm, if modest, round of cheers. My experience was that he was beloved because he didn’t have much money and got by the best he could. When we asked if we could have our pictures taken with him, Scott was happier to oblige than most of the drivers of his day. He became my sentimental favorite, and I don’t think it was uncommon. He was “good ol’ Wen-DELL,” as much as David Pearson was “the Silver Fox.”
I didn’t see the hate. Had Scott been a contender, had he threatened the domination of white drivers, I’m sure hate would have emerged, but all I knew was what I saw through 12-year-old eyes. Those 12-year-old eyes saw a lot of hate directed toward Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others who challenged white domination.
Fast forward half a century, and based on that perspective, one also-ran race driver to another, it seems as if the world has not progressed, and it breaks my heart.
I got up this morning, fixed a mug of coffee, fired up this laptop and tried to figure out what in the wide, wide world of Curt Flood and Colin Kaepernick was going on this time.
Somebody – some “nut,” as Barney Fife and James Gregory would have said – had placed a noose in the garage stall of modern-day African-American driver Darrell Wallace Jr., better known as “Bubba,” at Talladega sometime amid the gloom of Sunday precipitation.
Apparently, it was someone who didn’t think Bubba Wallace’s black life mattered.
I have spoken to Wallace, probably little more than I once spoke to Scott. I expect Scott was grudgingly respected in the 1960s and ’70s because fans never perceived him as “uppity.” I expect Wallace, who is not new to NASCAR, became an object of derision because a few fans of today decided he was “uppity.”
Some people will undoubtedly take offense at these words. They probably won’t think I’m “uppity,” because it’s uncommonly used toward people who are white. It’s a familiar means of what is today called “gaslighting,” but it dates back to a time when those lights were candles.
It makes me feel as if nothing has fundamentally changed in 50 years. It makes me want to cry.