Honoring pioneers of the automotive industry

By Exeter Finance

Honoring the Contributions of Black Automotive Innovators

As February kicks off, we’re excited to celebrate Black History Month by sharing stories of Black innovators in the auto industry who inspire us. We believe that the best way to embrace the future of our industry is by sharing and celebrating the stories you’ll read about in this blog today – the stories that can sometimes be overlooked.

Wendell Scott

Wendell Scott was the first African American driver and team owner to compete and win in all divisions of NASCAR at its highest level. Born in 1921 in Danville, Virginia, Scott was fascinated with vehicles as a child and learned auto mechanics from his father, who worked as a mechanic and driver. As a young man, he worked as a taxi driver before serving as a mechanic in the segregated army during World War II in Europe. Following his military service, he ran an auto-repair shop.

Scott began his racing career in 1951 with an explosive start. Although NASCAR initially denied him entrance due to his race, that didn’t stop Scott. He made a name for himself through the Dixie Circuit and at other non-NASCAR speedways, predominantly in Virginia and North Carolina. Three years later, Scott was finally approved for a NASCAR license and became the first Black NASCAR driver. Despite numerous encounters of racial prejudice, including being poisoned and receiving death threats, he was posthumously indicted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. To read more about Wendell Scott’s life and accomplishments, read here.

Richard Spikes

Born in 1878, Richard Spikes was an African American inventor from San Francisco, California. He held several positions throughout his life which would influence his automobile inventions. Spikes was a skilled pianist and violinist, he learned to cut hair in his father’s barber shop, and later became a public school teacher in Beaumont, Texas. Shortly after marrying his wife and having a son, Spikes opened a barber shop and a saloon in Arizona. Spikes was unimpressed with the way draft beer was dispensed from kegs. This led to his first invention- an improved pressure-dispense beer tap. This patent was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewing Company, and the invention is still in use today.

After Spikes and his family moved back to San Francisco, he began inventing automobile parts. His most notable patented inventions include the Brake Testing Machine (1923), modifications to the automatic gear shift (1932), Transmission and shifting thereof (1933), and the Automatic Safety Brake System (1962). These inventions substantially improved the quality and safety of vehicles. Although Spikes was not largely acknowledged in life, after his death in 1963 his inventions stood the test of time. To read more about the life and contributions of Richard Spikes, click here.

Lewis Hamilton

Last, but certainly not least, is Sir Lewis Hamilton, the first Black Formula One driver and arguably the greatest racer of all time. Hamilton was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England in 1985. He began his racing career at only eight years old and began winning races and breaking records almost immediately. Following a streak of successes in Formula A, Formula Renault, Formula 3, and GP2, Hamilton officially began his Formula One career and signed with McLaren in 2007.

The beginning of Hamilton’s F1 career was explosive, and just one year after joining he secured his first World Championship, making him the then-youngest F1 World Champion in history at the age of 23. He went on to secure several more podium finishes and race victories, and in 2012 he announced that he would be joining Mercedes in 2013, in a move that many considered extremely risky since Mercedes had no recent track record of success. However, this move proved to be a career-defining decision for Hamilton, and with Mercedes he would go on to win six more World Championships. From 2017-2020 Hamilton dominated the sport and won four straight years in a row. His total of seven World Championship wins has him tied in first place with Michael Schumacher for most World Championship wins ever. Hamilton also holds the definitive records for most wins, most pole positions, and most podium finishes.

Hamilton isn’t just an accomplished driver- his career is characterized by his outspoken activism against racism within the F1 world. He’s consistently criticized the lack of diversity within the sport as the only Black racer ever. In 2020, Hamilton took the knee before every race in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and sported black livery on his racecar. He was the first voice within F1 to speak up following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Hamilton has proven to be an extraordinarily accomplished racer who successfully uses his platform to incite societal reform.

About Exeter
Exeter Finance LLC is a non-prime auto finance company headquartered in Irving, Texas. The company partners with franchised and independent auto dealers throughout the country to make car ownership a reality for consumers. For more information, call our Dealer Operations Group at 1-855-4EXETER (855-439-3837).

Category: Industry