Driver Ends 20 Year Drought For African-Americans
Bill Lester made history on Monday by becoming the first African-American driver to qualify and compete in NASCAR’s top series in nearly 20 years.
Lester, who finished six laps off the pace in 38th place Monday at the Golden Corral 500, earned the opportunity to compete by qualifying 19th with a speed of 190.502 mph on March 18th.
Lester has been showered with attention, and rightfully so, but admits he’s a little embarrassed by it. “I’m looking forward to when it’s about racing instead of race,” said Lester, who is the first African-American driver to compete since Willy T. Ribbs did so in 1986.
With his involvement in the last race, Lester has become a symbol for minorities and a champion of what’s right."I’m glad so many people, especially from the minority community, have taken note of what it is I’m doing, but I drive for Bill Lester,” said Lester in regards to who he was representing on the racetrack.
“A the end of the day, if it wasn’t for my self belief, I wouldn’t be here.""I represented myself," he said. "I’m doing this for myself and for my family. Lester said he hopes he earned some respect from the other Cup drivers.
"I was able to bring it home in one piece and able to build up my database of knowledge," he said. "There were some opportunities for me to take some chances and I could have gotten in the way. But I’m not trying to do that."
"This is just a small piece of the puzzle, as Lester prepares for next season when BDR Motorsports fields two teams for Toyota, a newcomer to NASCAR. "All of this is pointing towards 2007 when the game plan is for him to be a Nextel Cup driver,” said Company president Ardy Arani.
A regular in the NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series since 2002, Lester accomplished one of his many stated goals by completing the 500-mile race, which was postponed on Sunday due to rain, without crashing.
The plan is to run as many races as the 45-year-old Cup rookie can fit around his full-time ride in the Truck Series without racing at restrictor-plate tracks in Daytona and Talladega or any of the half-mile tracks.Lester’s first shot in NASCAR came in the NASCAR Busch Series event at Watkins Glen, New York. Lester started in the 24th position, moved into the top-10 before finishing 21st after an on-track collision with another driver.
"I got a late start in my career and I’m trying to catch up as quick as I can," said Lester, who began racing in the mid-1980’s in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Series after resigning as a Project Manager at the Hewlett-Packard Company to go after his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
"It was a very significant learning experience for me," said Lester on his recent NASCAR success. "It was fun to be out there with them. This is just the beginning and we have two more races to go. Lester is scheduled to race two more Nextel Cup races this year-at Michigan International Speedway in June and California Speedway in September.