Bill Lester returning to a more welcoming, diverse NASCAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Costs Lester, among just a handful of Black motorists to ever race full-time in NASCAR, will go back to competitors 14 years after his last start.

Lester will drive for David Gilliland Racing on Saturday in the Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It will be the very first NASCAR start for the 60-year-old because 2007.

The one-race return comes as Lester is promoting his book “Winning in Reverse: Defying the Odds and Achieving Dreams — The Bill Lester Story.” Lester was an engineer at Hewlett-Packard when he stopped his job at age 40 to pursue a racing profession.

“I had not been looking to get back involved in the sport. I’ve been very content just watching,” Lester said Tuesday. “But I wrote this motivational memoir — it is not an autobiography, I want to make that very clear — it is a motivational story with a motorsports backdrop and my story of how I was able to live my dream.

“I talk about getting out of your comfort zone and this will truly be an example of me getting out of my comfort zone. I could very easily continue to sit on the couch and watch, but here I am going to jump back in the deep end at one of the fastest tracks on the circuit.”

Lester made 145 profession NASCAR begins, mainly in the third-tier Truck Series from 2002 through 2007. He was the very first Black chauffeur to contend in an Xfinity Series race in 1999, and his 2006 start in the Cup race at Atlanta made him the very first Black chauffeur to race at NASCAR’s leading level because Willy T. Ribbs almost twenty years previously.

Lester go back to an even more progressive sport that in the in 2015 has actually challenged its checkered racial history. Bubba Wallace is the only present full-time Black chauffeur in NASCAR and is among just 8 Black motorists in history to contend at the Cup level.

Wallace in 2015 effectively pressed NASCAR to prohibit from its occasions the Confederate Flag, a Southern sign of the Civil War frequently shown by fans at racetracks.

Lester indicated the nationwide racial numeration last summertime that provided Wallace the chance to promote modification in a sport controlled by white guys because its 1948 development. When the flag was prohibited, Lester stated he composed a letter to NASCAR President Steve Phelps thanking him for the gesture.

“When I was racing in the mid-2000s, ears were not ready to hear it. There was no platform that I had to say the things that Bubba did and gain traction. It sunk in this time,” Lester stated. “When the media asked me before about my thoughts on the Confederate Flag, I was very transparent about the fact that I didn’t like it and it made me uncomfortable.

“But I ignored it. I treated it as Southern culture and I just had to respect Southerners for their culture even though I didn’t believe that that was something we should all be rallying behind. But far be it for me to make any change. It just wasn’t the right time.”

Lester said the movement toward racial equality sparked by Wallace is just “a foundation that’s being laid for more change, more equality and more of everybody enjoying the sport of NASCAR.”

NASCAR’s variety program introduced in 2004 and Wallace is among 4 present motorists to finish into the Cup Series. However he kept in mind that there’s variety throughout all of motorsports now, instead of his time racing full-time, when Lester remembers just one Black crewmember in the garage.

“Now when I see the garage and I see the pit teams and I see the color that is out there, along with the gender, it’s simply eliminating to me to see how far NASCAR has actually come,” Lester stated. “It was desolate when I was there.”

Lester discussed problems he dealt with as the only Black full-time rival, including his choice to disregard using the N-word in his existence. Kyle Larson invested the majority of last season suspended for utilizing the racial slur throughout an iRacing occasion, however when Larson won at Las Vegas previously this month, Lester published a congratulatory message for him.

Although he’s hung around with Wallace throughout Wallace’s advancement, Lester stated he has no relationship with Larson. Nevertheless, he had no issue forgiving Larson and moving past the slur.

“I was extremely disappointed by the misstep that he made and he knows better,” Lester stated. “He knows what words mean and how they can hurt and demean people. He has made amends, he has gone through the training he needed so that he appreciates the gravity of what he said. And I’m glad he was given a second chance. I never wanted that to be the end of his racing career.”

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.