Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from Steerforth Press

Search the Site

Hard Driving

The Wendell Scott Story

Hard Driving Buy Now
Format Paperback Ebook Audiobook
ISBN 978-1-58642-302-5 978-1-58642-303-2 978-1-58642-320-9
Published Aug 3, 2021
Imprint Truth to Power
Biography & Memoir Sports

The only book-length account of the life of Wendell Scott, the one-time moonshine runner who broke the color barrier in stock-car racing in 1952 and, against all odds, competed for more than 20 years in a sport dominated by Southern whites.

Hard Driving is the story of one man’s determination to live the life he loved, and to compete at the highest level of his sport. When Wendell Scott became NASCAR’s version of Jackie Robinson in the segregated 1950s, some speedways refused to let him race. Scott appealed directly to the sport’s founder, NASCAR czar Bill France Sr., who promised that NASCAR would treat him without prejudice. For the next two decades, Scott chased a dream whose fulfillment depended on France backing up that promise. France reneged on his pledge, but Scott did receive inspiring support from white drivers who admired his skill and tenacity, such as NASCAR champions Ned Jarrett and Richard Petty.


Donovan shows how Wendell Scott's career was every bit as groundbreaking as Jackie Robinson's feat of breaking baseball's color barrier. Perhaps even more so." Tampa Tribune

Donovan tells it like it was. . . . A copy of [this] masterpiece should be in every library in the country, inculding schools." — Morris Stephenson in The Franklin News-Post

Both a history and a sports classic." Detroit Free Press

A fascinating book . . . a wonderful story about a really interesting guy." Toronto Star

One of the most compelling sports biographies of this or any year. A must-read for NASCAR fans." — (starred review) Booklist

Donovan's writing is well-paced and measured, clearly depicting the complex atmosphere of race relations in the segregated South. His extensive reporting, including interviews with Scott before he died in 1990, combined with his descriptive and enjoyable prose about racing, make this book a deeply compelling story." (starred review) Publishers Weekly

Talk about a necessary sports biography. Hard Driving is unquestionably a winner." — Robert Edelstein, author of Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner

A surprisingly moving and powerful account of Wendell Scott’s utterly American Odyssey. It offers a window into a world not that far removed from our own, as we struggle still to judge each person, as Dr. King said, on the content of their character–not the color of their skin." — Ken Burns, filmmaker, winner of three Emmy Awards, including one for Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Wendell Scott was to NASCAR what Jackie Robinson was to baseball. The difference was that Robinson played in liberal Brooklyn and had the backing of Branch Rickey, and Scott raced in the segregated South and hadÉnobody. The hard-working, dauntless Scott, like Robinson, should be a national hero. Until that day, he has Brian Donovan’s moving biography as his legacy." — Peter Golenbock, author of Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang



I’m not entirely sure how old I was when I first heard the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier — four or five, maybe? — but it utterly captivated me from the start. I cannot tell you how many times through the years I have thought about what it must have been like for Robinson, alone, defiant, playing baseball with the weight of history on his shoulders. Baseball had been segregated for more than half a century.So many forces were lined up against him. So many people wanted him to fail.

And so many people needed him to succeed.

Through the years as a sportswriter, I have spent countless hours talking to people who knew Robinson, played with him, played against him, and that is the question I ask each of them: What was it like for him? They try to answer, but they can only tell me so much. Only Robinson really knew.

And so it is astonishing to me that in so many ways I feel like I learned more about what it was like for Jackie Robinson by reading a wonderful book about . . . a race car driver.

Wendell Scott had it much rougher than Robinson, there is no question about that. As Brian Donovan explains, Wendell Scott really was alone as he did the impossible: integrated nascar as the civil rights movement took flight. While Robinson was signed by a baseball legend named Branch Rickey, Scott had to make his own way. While Robinson won over many of his white teammates (who then became some of his most devoted supporters), Scott had no racing teammates, just competitors who would enthusiastically crash him (or anyone else) into a wall to get to the checkered flag first.

While Robinson was based in Brooklyn and played all of his games in big cities (and none of them in the American South), Scott raced just about every time in the South. He raced in Birmingham weeks after Martin Luther King wrote his famous letter from a jail there. He raced in Augusta, Georgia, just before riots broke out. He raced in Charlotte at the same time that the homes of various civil rights leaders were bombed.

Wendell Scott — Brian Donovan tells us — always carried a .38-caliber revolver. And was sure to keep it loaded.

This book in your hands, this new release of Hard Driving to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of Wendell Scott’s birth, is something very special. For one thing, it is a work of passion by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Brian Donovan, who was something of a legend himself. He was a relentless reporter, someone who would not stop until he got the story.

He was also a race car driver himself, which is part of what drew him to Wendell Scott. It is telling that the two men didn’t fully connect until Wendell needed to break loose a bolt and Brian, without request, handed him the proper wrench for the job.

The relationship between Brian and Wendell gives us a raw, uninhibited, and unapologetic look at what Wendell Scott endured to do what he was always meant to do: race cars. The book doesn’t hide from Scott’s flaws; nor does it romanticize his extraordinary accomplishments. The truth is powerful enough.

“I heard this same observation again and again,” Brian writes. “During the 1950s and ’60s, as civil rights conflict roiled the South, the first black person that many white southerners came to admire was the driver who’d integrated their beloved sport of stock car racing.”

Wendell Scott died more than thirty years ago, in 1990. Brian Donovan died in 2018 after a battle with Alzheimer’s. It took Brian many years — decades, actually — to bring this book to life, and we should all be grateful that he did because inside you will find a rip-roaring story of a man’s tireless and fearless pursuit of the checkered flag, even when the race official refused to wave it.

Yes, you’ll get that remarkable story in here, too.

I personally know almost nothing about cars or racing, but through a series of poor editing judgments I have found myself often writing about nascar and spending time with some of the legends of the sport. Once I was with Junior Johnson in his North Carolina garage, he was drinking coffee that was stronger than gasoline, and I asked him about Wendell Scott.

“That man could drive,” Junior said, the ultimate compliment. If you know something about Wendell Scott, this book will help you feel some of what he felt as he made history. And if you don’t know anything at all about Wendell Scott, I envy you. You’re about to meet one helluva man.

Joe Posnanski

December 23, 2020

Charlotte, North Carolina

About the Author

Brian Donovan

BRIAN DONOVAN was a Newsday investigative reporter who won more than forty journalism awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes and Columbia University’s Paul Tobenkin Award for reporting on racial and ethnic intolerance. Driving on the EMRA Vanderbilt Cup circuit, he won a season championship, as well as a track championship at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway and dozens of races from Canada to West Virginia. He gained exclusive access to Wendell Scott over the last fourteen months of Scott’s life and interviewed more than two hundred individuals to capture this epic, previously untold American story. Brian died in 2018.

You May Also Like

Related Titles