BILL LESTER ON THE CHANGING FACE OF NASCAR African-American driver comments on new nationalities joining the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Atlanta, Georgia - July 19, 2006 - The face of NASCAR is set to undergo accelerated change over the...
BILL LESTER ON THE CHANGING FACE OF NASCAR
African-American driver comments on new nationalities joining the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Atlanta, Georgia - July 19, 2006 - The face of NASCAR is set to undergo accelerated change over the next few months with the arrival of Columbian driver Juan Pablo Montoya from the Grand Prix arena. Bill Lester, who became the first black driver to compete in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race in 20 years when he qualified for the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, sees it as just the beginning of what could become a very different makeup of NASCAR's premiere division.
"In March, when I became the first black driver in twenty years to race in the Nextel Cup series it was a watershed event for NASCAR, and one that was amplified due to the focus on diversity efforts over the past few years," said Lester. "In reality, while I may have successfully qualified for my first two races, there are no Hispanic, female or other minority drivers competing full-time at the top. Now, with Montoya coming from Formula One, the Hispanic and South American fans will have a face of their own to root for, and I am hearing that other drivers are taking a hard look at what this series has to offer. Of course we all saw the quotes by the IRL's Danica Patrick last week, and who knows if she will walk away from open-wheel racing to try something as different as this.
And, I was interested to see that Canadians Patrick Carpentier from ChampCar/IRL and Jacques Villeneuve from Formula One are also talking about testing the NASCAR waters .... to all of them, I can say -- jump in, the water is fine. I've always said that diversity in NASCAR is about more than just having me in a Nextel Cup car, and I think it will great for the sport as these new faces add to the character of the field."
Lester's racing career is marked by a series of firsts. He was the first African-American to compete in a NASCAR Busch Series event in 1999, the first to win a pole for a modern-era NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2003, and the first to lead a top division NASCAR CTS race in over two decades.
In June, Lester became the first African-American driver since Wendell Scott in 1963 to finish on the lead lap of a NASCAR Nextel Cup race when he did so at Michigan Speedway in his #23 Waste Management entry run by Bill Davis Racing.
Lester is scheduled to compete in the Sony HD 500 at California Speedway on September 3rd, and is hard at work on cementing his options to race in Nextel Cup in 2007. "My goal is to become a full-time NASCAR Nextel Cup driver," added Lester. "So far I think I have demonstrated that I have the ability to run at this level, and to finish races. Without owner points on the #23 Waste Management team, I've had to get in these races on speed alone, and we are all proud of what the BDR #23 team has accomplished. But to really consider the process a success I need to be able to race at the Nextel Cup level on a permanent basis, and that is what our focus is on for next year."