“I’m looking forward to the time when racing is about racing – not race.”
- Bill Lester
Just Another Good Driver
Under ordinary circumstances, qualifying 19th for a NASCAR Nextel Cup race is hardly newsworthy – and finishing 38th among 43 competitors won’t land a driver on the section front of the sports pages.
But the circumstances of Bill Lester are hardly ordinary.
Lester, the first black driver to make a Cup field in 10 years, went wire-to-wire at Atlanta Motor Speedway March 20 in what amounts to an audition. A regular in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Lester hopes a limited 2006 Cup schedule will be a springboard to a full ride in the sport’s top series.
“It was actually really cool to be out there with the best drivers racing in a stock car,” Lester says. “I don’t really deserve the attention I’m getting. I’m looking forward to the time when racing is about racing – not race.
“But it was really exciting to have the opportunity to live my dream and race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, my hometown track. It has been indescribable. Racing 500 miles with the fuel and tire run was a good experience for me. I was able to bring it home in one piece, and I’m looking forward to running more races.”
Driving a Waste Management-sponsored Dodge for Bill Davis Racing, Lester will also attempt to qualify for the events at Michigan and California, as well as continue his regular schedule in the truck series. More dates could be added to the Cup schedule if his performance warrants it.
“I can only hope,” he says. “I kept my nose clean for the most part. I ran a smart race. I wasn’t out there in contention, but that was the first time I drove a Nextel Cup car. So I hope that everyone keeps that in mind.
“I didn’t get a top 20 like I wanted, but these drivers have been racing for a long time. I got a late start in my career, and I’m trying my best to catch up as quickly as I can.”
The 45-year-old is attempting to break into Cup racing at an age when some drivers are planning to break out. And his career path has been an interesting one.
Lester was born in Washington, D.C, and raised in Atlanta. He earned a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from California-Berkeley in 1984 and parlayed his education into a job with the Hewlett-Packard Company.
While on the job, he raced as a hobby and won the SCCA Series Northern California Region Rookie of the Year title and the SCCA GT-3 Regional Road Racing Championship in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Three years later Lester began racing in the International Motor Sports Association’s GTO Series and several other sports car series in the United States.
By the mid 1990s, Lester had made four starts in the 24 Hours of Daytona and competed several times in the SCCA Trans AM Series.