In celebration of Black History Month, Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) recently welcomed the Black American Racers (BAR) to Herndon Headquarters for an inspiring Lunch & Learn and the reveal of the team’s newly refurbished Formula Super Vee race car.
Leonard W. Miller, the first African-American motorsport owner to have a team compete in the Indianapolis 500, was among the special guests at the event. Miller’s BAR team was founded in 1972, the same year he began the Black American Racers Association (BARA) to give recognition to African-American racing drivers, mechanics, car owners and sponsors of African-Americans in motorsports.
Miller’s racing team fielded cars for African-American driver Benny Scott in the Volkswagen Gold Cup Super Vee Series throughout the mid-1970s. During its heyday, BAR was ranked within the top 60 racing teams in the world.
Machelle Williams, senior director of diversity and CSR for VWGoA, kicked off the program, welcoming colleagues and BAR guests to the event. Sean Maynard, VWoA consumer events coordinator for Volkswagen Marketing, followed with a brief history of African-American racing in the U.S. and discussed Volkswagen’s involvement.
“It was so inspiring to hear the story of these automotive pioneers, and to know that Volkswagen was a part of their groundbreaking achievement was especially rewarding,” Williams said.
Leonard W. Miller headlined the event and told incredible stories from his racing days, discussed the inspiration behind his work, and relived the day when Benny Scott became the first African American driver to set the fastest qualifying time in a professional auto race — putting his Formula Super Vee on pole at Laguna Seca in 1975.
“The experience today was a historic one because this is the first time in my life that a major automotive corporation has acknowledged our achievements as a race team,” Miller said. “The story behind the team, in our VW-powered car, has never been told before and I was honored to join Volkswagen employees, along with my BAR colleagues, friends and family, to unveil the beautifully restored Black American Racers Super Vee, thanks to Volkswagen.”
Ernest Green, civil rights icon and one of the Little Rock Nine, also attended the event and spoke to Volkswagen employees about the Civil Rights Movement and the role African-American racing played during the time.
The Little Rock Nine were a group of nine black students who were barred from entering an all-white high school in Little Rock, Ark., following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring segregation unconstitutional in public schools. After Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus called in the state National Guard to prevent the nine students from entering the building on the first day of school, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered federal troops to escort the nine students into school.
“You don’t know when you’re doing something that you’re making a mark on history,” Green said. “You’re simply there trying to win races and do the very best you can. And then you look back on it, like the folks here at Volkswagen did and Leonard did, and you’re a part of history.”
During the program, attendees also heard from Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), who discussed the exhaustive search Volkswagen and HVA conducted to find the original Super Vee race car driven by Benny Scott and the car’s importance in automotive history.
Leonard T. Miller, son of BARA founder Leonard W. Miller, also previewed the new documentary, out later this year, that will tell the story of the Black American Racers and include original racing footage of the famous Super Vee. The film is based on Leonard W. Miller’s book, “Silent Thunder: Breaking Through Cultural, Racial, and Class Barriers in Motorsports.”
After the speakers, the Volkswagen Experiential Marketing team revealed the newly refurbished Super Vee, parked in the VW Showroom. The car’s restoration was completed in two months, with every detail matching the car raced during the 1975 season. The restoration team used old race footage and rare photographs to carefully complete the project.
At the conclusion of the Lunch & Learn event, attendees also had the opportunity to win copies of Miller’s book, “Silent Thunder: Breaking Through Cultural, Racial, and Class Barriers in Motorsports.”