DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 18, 2002) - The day has finally arrived for Bill Lester.
During the first day of a three-day NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series test session at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the Feb. 15 Florida Dodge Dealers 250, Lester, a native of Oakland, Calif., finally got a chance to strap into the No. 8 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge at the "World Center of Racing."
Last year, Lester auditioned for the No. 8 Dodge ride that's part of the Dodge Motorsports Diversity Program, but the job ended up going to Willy T. Ribbs. But the audition didn't end just yet for Lester, who ended up driving the No. 4 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge in five races and posted a best finish of 18th at Phoenix while his top qualifying effort was a 10th-place starting position at Nashville.
At season's end, Lester got the call that he would replace Ribbs in the No. 8 Dodge for the 2002 season. He'll be part of a three-truck team at Bobby Hamilton Racing with fellow drivers Robert Pressley (No. 18 Dodge) and Brian Rose (No. 4 Dodge).
For Lester, the opportunity to work with one of the top organizations in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is all part of a dream that started back in 1985 when he first started racing. In 1989, while still working as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard, he turned professional and didn't turn back on his goal of reaching a top-notch race team.
"Sponsorships and opportunities didn't materialized as quickly as I would've like them too, but I'm here now," said Lester, who has a strong background in sportscars and resigned from Hewlett-Packard in 1998. "In 1989, I was working for Hewlett-Packard and was out of engineering school for a few years and I was a R&D project manager. I was pretty much going through the motions, thinking about racing and doing everything I could to get where I am now. I'm proud to say with all that determination and struggle, we're finally here with a full-time deal."
On Friday, the 40-year-old Lester, who attended the University of California at Berkley, turned a fast lap of 182.493 mph. Fastest on the day was Matt Crafton, who got some drafting help and turned a lap of 184.249. Second fastest was Ron Hornaday, who posted a speed of 183.921. Lester was satisfied with his first day of testing.
"I'm really happy about how things went," said Lester, who has competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona four times. "I think we turned respectable times. We kept on making changes to put us in the right direction. We learned what to do and what not to do. I'm pleased."
Driving the limited schedule for Bobby Hamilton Racing last year only increased Lester's motivation to go to work for Bobby Hamilton Racing.
"Without a doubt, I wanted to be part of that organization," Lester said. "I was pretty much a satellite team. They had two trucks committed to running full time. They did what they could to give me a good effort. They made me want to be here more and more. When things finally came around and I got the call, I was more than happy."
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series testing continues on Saturday at the Speedway and is free and open to the public with access through the lobby of DAYTONA USA. Tickets for Speedweeks 2002 events, including the Feb. 15 Florida Dodge Dealers 250, are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.