Bill Lester's ten minutes of fame have finally arrived. Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lester became the first African-American to qualify for a NASCAR Nextel Cup series event in two decades. "It's overwhelming," said Lester. "This is...
Bill Lester's ten minutes of fame have finally arrived. Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lester became the first African-American to qualify for a NASCAR Nextel Cup series event in two decades.
"It's overwhelming," said Lester. "This is really the culmination of a dream I've had to race in professional motor sports. My wife believed in me when she let me pursue this dream to make it happen. Since then there's been trials and tribulations, but I wasn't complete because I wasn't doing what I wanted to do with my life I'm doing something here that a lot of people didn't think I could do. I'm so happy that Bill Davis believed in me and that Waste Management decided to get behind me. It means a lot to me."
Lester's journey to the NASCAR ranks is an interesting tale of twists and turns. The eloquent 45-year-ld Washington DC native didn't grow up inundated by racing. In fact, in 1984 he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor's of Science in Electrical Engineering.
After working for Hewlett-Packard, Lester, with a little push from his wife, decided to take his weekend hobby of racing and try and turn it into a career.
"The biggest issue has been the age issue, but fortunately I don't look or act my age," Lester continued. "I'm pleased that those doubting thomases are a little bit in the situation of reevaluating the statements they made. There are always people who don't believe in you, but if I listened to those people, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Lester earned his chops in the 1990's racing in the SCCA series before making his Busch series debut in 1999 at Watkins-Glen. It would be two more years before Lester returned to NASCAR making several Truck series starts in 2001.
He ran the full schedule in 2002 finishing 17th in driver standings and ended up second in Raybestos Rookie of the Years honors. Lester continued to build upon his success in 2003, earning his first career pole award and earning the 14th position in year end standings.
It's not been an easy road for Lester who is currently the only African- American driver competing in any of NASCAR's top three (Busch, Truck, Cup) circuits. In fact, there have only been six drivers (including Lester) of African-American heritage to compete in any NASCAR series in the history of the sport.
Charlie Scott competed in one NASCAR event in the 1950's. Wendell Scott made 459 NASCAR starts in the 50's and 60's and is the only driver of color to ever win a NASCAR event. George Wiltshire and Randy Bethea races in the 1970's and Will y T. Ribs competed in three Cup races in the 80's before becoming the first African-American to participate in the Truck series in 2001.
"Willy T. Ribbs and I spent a whole lot of time together when I was in San Jose and Oakland, and I was struggling in my tech career trying to get out of it and he was struggling with his open-wheel career," told Lester. "Then he made his mark in NASCAR and the Truck series. For whatever reason we don't talk anymore and I think that's unfortunate. I think Willy has a different career he's following and I wish him the best. What he's done to inspire me has been invaluable."
The 2004 season bought a whole new chapter to Lester's career when he signed on to drive the N0.22 Dodge Ram for Bill Davis Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. That relationship brought Lester to where he is today, behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup car gearing up to make his first start in America's premiere racing series.
Lester will start the Golden-Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway from the 19th position in the No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Dodge.