Stock-car pioneer Raymond Arnold Jr. left indelible mark on NASCAR history

The South Carolina racing community came together this weekend to celebrate the life of stock-car racing pioneer Raymond Arnold Jr., a figure whose behind-the-scenes work aided the cause of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott.

Arnold, who served as a longtime member of Scott’s pit crew, died July 7 at the age of 85. His mechanical know-how, passion for racing and friendship endeared him to Scott, who became the NASCAR Cup Series’ first Black winner in 1963.

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Arnold was in attendance when Scott was enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, and he was acknowledged by Scott’s sons, Franklin and Wendell Jr., as part of the induction speech. Scott’s children were part of the No. 34 team, but Arnold was also considered family.

“We got along good. I was an only child, never had a brother,” Arnold told NASCAR Productions in 2010. “And if I could’ve picked a brother, I probably would’ve picked him for big brother. … The more I was around him, the better I liked him.”

The weekend-long memorial celebration — which was held with COVID-19 precautions in place — included visitation Thursday in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with graveside services the following day at Upper Shady Grove Baptist Church in nearby Wellford. Plans also included two racing-related tributes at Palmetto State tracks that were regular stops for Scott’s team — a Friday night meeting at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg and a Saturday afternoon victory lap at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

The Spartanburg track holds a special place for the Arnold and Scott families. Ray Arnold was attending a race there with some friends, and when he met the driver, Scott was troubleshooting a problematic carburetor on his 1961 Chevrolet. Arnold said that just weeks earlier, he had bought a trimmed-out 1962 Impala with performance parts. After some wrenching and the addition of an adapter plate, Arnold’s new carburetor rode with Scott’s No. 34 to the finish, and a friendship was born.

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“From then o
n, we just kept growing closer and closer,” Arnold said in 2010. “Every time he came in the area, I’d find out where he was going to be, and me and some of my buddies would just go to the race track.”

Arnold continued with Scott until his racing career ended in 1973, balancing his time helping the race team with his job as a teacher of automotive mechanics and driver education at Eastside High School in Greenville County. Fellow crew members nicknamed Arnold “Rags” because he was often seen with a shop rag hanging from his pockets.

Arnold said he was a witness to the challenges Scott and his team faced as a Black man competing in the Deep South during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He also saw the struggles Scott had in his search for speed as a determined independent.

“The words ‘never’ and ‘can’t’ are two words he never used,” Arnold told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in 2016. “He wouldn‘t give up.”

Arnold is survived by three children, Dr. Sonya Arnold, Dr. Antonia “Toni” Arnold-McFarland and Raymond “Trey” Arnold III.