Washington Examiner Article.
Washington has never been much of a motorsports city, so the news of Bill Scott’s quiet passing at age 71 Monday in Middleburg went mostly unnoticed, except among those of us here for whom phrases like “Formula One” and “grand prix” have a magical power.
Hitting a baseball that looks like an aspirin as it hurtles toward the plate at 90 mph or threading the needle with a football thrown between a sprinting receiver and two charging safeties are certainly great sports challenges.
But no batter or quarterback ever faces the physical and mental challenges required to master a powerful race car balanced precariously on the excruciatingly fine line between the fastest lap and disaster. Scott drew that line as finely as some of the most famous men ever to drive a single-seat, open cockpit race car.
He may have been the best race car driver you never heard of here in his home town. During a remarkable four-year span, Scott won professional racing series that normally led to invitations to compete at the ultimate level, the Formula One world driving championship contested by an elite handful.
Among his titles were the 1968 European and U.S. Formula Vee championships, the 1969 Formula Ford world championship, the 1970 Formula Vee world championship, and the 1971 and 1972 Formula Super Vee U. S. professional championship.
In fact, as Gayle Lorenz wrote earlier this week, Scott started 124 races during those years, won 42 times and finished in the top three 77 times. He did that while competing against and beating such then-rising luminaries as Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi, Great Britain’s James Hunt, and Austria’s Niki Lauda, all three of whom later won world championships.
Racing can be the cruelest of sports in many ways, though, and Scott never got his shot at the grand prix circuit. So he retired as an active driver to become a successful professional racing team owner. In 1979, he bought Summit Point Raceway, then a bankrupt, poorly developed two mile, 10-turn road racing circuit in West Virginia, about an hour from the nation’s capital.
In time, he turned it into one of America’s best motorsports facilities. Today, it features four separate tracks, a highly lauded Accident Avoidance training course for young drivers, and one of the world’s premier anti-terrorist driving schools, used regularly by the U.S. State Department and “other” federal military and law enforcement agencies.
I first met Scott when I went club racing in a Formula Ford and covered the professional races at the track in the mid-1980s for The Washington Times, where I was then a desk editor and automotive columnist.
Scott was always helpful, available to give advice or patiently explain complicated technical information, and keenly interested in finding new ways to introduce Washingtonians to the subtle charms of motorsports, especially of the road racing variety in which he excelled.
He never really lost his touch behind the wheel, either. My former racing partner Denny Austin tells of a testing day at Summit when Scott’s team driver – a former Indy and Camel GT standout who shall remain nameless here – whined incessantly about being unable to get the car to go any faster.
Late in the afternoon, Scott, tiring of the complaints, jumped into the cockpit, and then, wearing street clothes, hard shoes and a throw-away helmet, went out and lowered the team’s fastest time on the day by two seconds.
On another occasion some years later, I stood listening nearby one day as Scott chatted with Paul Newman, who was then a rather talented racer in his own right. A frustrated Newman couldn’t quite get his factory Datsun Turbo Z Trans Am racer up to a competitive speed.
Scott suggested one small change – taking Summit’s tricky decreasing radius Turn 10 one gear higher than Newman was accustomed. Newman was overjoyed when Scott’s suggestion lowered his lap time by a full half-second. To put that into perspective, gaining half a second at Summit in the Trans Am cars of the era was like giving Cal Ripken a tip that added 20 homers to his total in a season.
I was blessed to have witnessed Scott’s immense talents as a racer and to benefit from his willingness to give me a desperately needed opportunity at a difficult time in my career. As much as I respected Scott for his speed, I especially admired him for being so devoted to his wife, Barbara, and their family, and for giving so much of himself to his friends and neighbors.
Lorenz recalled that “the twinkle in his eye brightened the day of all who saw it.” And so did Bill Scott’s life. Rest In Peace: William Henry "Bill" Scott, IV. 1938 – 2009.
Visitation is 6-8 pm at the Royston Funeral Home in Middleburg Wednesday evening, with funeral services at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville at 11 am Thursday.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner