Homestead: Bill Lester - Team spotlight

STARWORKS MOTORSPORT DRIVER BILL LESTER, FORMER COMPUTER GEEK RACING ON THE FOOTSTEPS OF WILLY T. RIBBS! It's probably fitting that Bill Lester's passion is not only rooted in the dream, but in the pursuit of it as well. That's because for more...

STARWORKS MOTORSPORT DRIVER BILL LESTER, FORMER COMPUTER GEEK RACING ON THE FOOTSTEPS OF WILLY T. RIBBS!

It's probably fitting that Bill Lester's passion is not only rooted in the dream, but in the pursuit of it as well. That's because for more than 20 years, Lester, a former Silicon Valley engineer-turned-race-car-driver, probably has competed harder off the track than he has on it. In 1999, he became the first African American driver to start a NASCAR Busch Series race then in 2006 he became the first African American driver since Willy T. Ribbs in 1986 to race in the Nextel Cup Series event. In this one-on-one interview with Bill Lester prior to next weekend's 2010 Grand Prix of Miami, he talks about his debut in racing, his early career and also about his racing experience as an African American.

Bill talks about his engineer days at Hewlett Packard: "When I first started at HP I was a software development engineer and so essentially what I did is I wrote software programs for diagnostics. Diagnostics are basically the tools you would use to troubleshoot failures in a computer. I was a software development engineer for four years and then quickly became a research and development project manager."

BL about his move to racing: "I stopped my computer career and pursued racing because I really wanted to be a racecar driver. My electrical engineering and computer science degree from Cal Berkeley and my employment at HP were essentially just a means to an end. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth nor had opportunities that others were afforded. I had to basically do it the hard way. I wanted to find a job that paid enough money for me to buy my own race car which is what I did eventually when I first got employed."

BL about his first experience with car racing: "I was living a dual life, 8-5 Monday through Friday in the high tech industry and I was essentially living for the weekend at which time I could go out there on the race course. I finally got to a point where I threw away my professional career and dove in head first trying to make the professional racecar driver scenario come together."

BL about African American race car drivers. "I think that the fact that there are not a lot of African American drivers racing at the highest level really comes down to two things, one exposure and two, opportunity. By and large African Americans are not exposed to motorsports. I was very fortunate in that my father took me to a race when I was 8 years old. It basically opened my eyes to a whole new arena as opposed to ball sports that African American youth are primarily exposed to. So we first have to be exposed to it and realize that it is something exciting and something that you could be involved in. And the other thing is opportunity. Motorsports is a very, very expensive sport to be involved in African American have by and large not been involved in and have not been able to find the financial support to stay involved."

BL about racing on Wendell Scott's footsteps. "I'm not racing in the footsteps of Wendell Scott. I'm more racing in the footsteps of Willy T. Ribbs. The simple fact of the matter is that he and I grew up in Northern California together. We grew up together and have supported each other in our careers. I watched and learned what it is he's done and it's helped me a lot in my career. Unfortunately I did not know Wendell Scott. He was before my time and I never really got an appreciation for him. Once I got into NASCAR he had already passed."

BL about Wendell Scott who remains the only African-American driver to have won a Cup race and his prevention from accessing winner's circle. "Wendell Scott raced in the 1960s and was the first African-American to compete full-time and win in a NASCAR circuit even as he faced racial discrimination. He won a race at Jacksonville in 1963, Florida on the one mile dirt track at Speedway Park. There's no question that things have changed in the last 50 years, have they changed and progressed enough? Definitely not. There's no question that if I had won a race I would definitely have been able to go to Victory Circle and spray the champagne, something he did not have the luxury to do. He was awarded the trophy and given his check long after he had won the race. Things have progressed, but there's a long way to go."

BL about his expectations with Starworks Motorsport for 2010. "I expect us to hit the ground running. I know that Starworks has a great infrastructure as far as personnel and equipment is concerned. I'm excited about racing for Peter Baron, our engineer, Bill Riley, my teammate, Ian James, and I think that we will get to be formidable out there. I'm just looking forward to our season to really start at Homestead. We did not finish the Rolex 24, which was a disappointment, but I think that for a team coming out of the box we're going to be fine."

BL about Starworks team principal Peter Baron. "I think a lot of Peter. He first came across him a couple of years ago having tested with him at Daytona and having a really good feeling about that situation as of last year got to know him a whole lot better. He knows what he's doing and understands racing, he was as a driver he also understands the business and marketing end of it, and is a guy who is a fighter. He's not just a guy with his arms crossed; he's in the trenches, I think that being a part of his organization."

-source: starworks motorsport

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Ian James , Peter Baron , Bill Lester , Willy T. Ribbs , Wendell Scott