NASCAR Truck driver Bill Lester on why the sport’s Confederate flag ban ‘floored’ him

Expense Lester hasn’t raced in NASCAR in 14 years, and by his own admission, he “really had no itch to scratch” when it concerned returning behind the wheel.

However in between working to promote his book, Winning In Reverse: Defying the Chances and Attaining Dreams, and having sponsor assistance, whatever lined up completely for a return – no matter how quick.

For 60-year-old Lester, Saturday’s NASCAR Truck Series Fr8Auctions 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a one-off race in the meantime, since he stated he does not understand how he’ll feel when the green flag flies.

“I’m no spring chicken,” Lester joked today throughout a virtual interview. For his 143rd NASCAR Truck Series race and initially given that 2007, he’ll drive the the No. 17 David Gilliland Racing Ford. He has 7 top-10 surfaces and 3 poles in the third-tier series and his very first of 2 Cup Series races was at Atlanta in 2006.

“I need to find out how I feel behind the wheel,” he continued. “Do I still love it like I remember I loved it? Or is it something it’s like, ‘OK, I did it. It was cool. But I have no more burning desire, (and) the flame is extinguished’? I don’t know, and I am just as excited and encouraged to find out.”

And he’ll need to adapt to lots of other unknowns, like working with a brand-new team chief and spotter, and striking the track without a minute of practice or certifying, which is the outcome of COVID-19 limitations.

“Sometimes I think, ‘I must be crazy,'” Lester stated. “But by the same token, I still love racing. I still have a passion for it. If I didn’t have a passion for it, I wouldn’t be doing this. I don’t have anything to prove to anybody, except myself.”

What Lester does understand, nevertheless, is that he’s going back to a NASCAR that looks a fair bit various than the last time he was on the track.

Amongst just a handful of Black chauffeurs to race at the premier Cup level, Lester has actually been singing in the previous about the boos and despiteful receptions he got at the track racing in NASCAR’s 3 nationwide series from 1999 to 2007. In 2017, he stated he seemed like he “was not really embraced” by the NASCAR neighborhood when he formerly contended. Tuesday, he discussed how automobile racing are frequently unattainable to individuals of color, in part, since “it wasn’t an inviting environment.”

He remembered how, as a kid, he’d tune in for a NASCAR race and “see a sea of white folks and Confederate flags,” which “was a huge turnoff” for him. He stated as a racer when he came to tracks like Martinsville Speedway, there were “many times where my pace was quickened” as he attempted to obtain from his hauler to the garage as quick as possible. He stated he’s needed to call out individuals for utilizing the N-word “on a number of occasions.”

However Lester credited chauffeur Bubba Wallace for sparking a culture shift by pressing NASCAR in 2015 to take the essential and long past due action of prohibiting the Confederate flag.

“Bubba was really fortunate to be able to take advantage of the platform that he had being at the top level of the sport to be able to say, ‘You know what, NASCAR? You talk about being America’s sport, well, prove it. Ban the Confederate flag. See if you really want to put your money where your mouth is.’ And NASCAR, to their credit, did.

“I was floored. I was blown away. I was so moved that I sent out an e-mail to (NASCAR president) Steve Phelps and stated, ‘Thank you. I truly value what you did. That was a big declaration.’ Since when I was racing on a more constant basis in the mid-2000s, ears were not prepared to hear it. There was no platform that I needed to have the ability to state the important things that Bubba did and let them get traction. They sunk in this time.”

Lester said he said he believes the landscape of the predominantly white male sport is changing to be more vocally inclusive and welcoming while addressing racism and inequality within NASCAR. He also noted that culture changes are not instantaneous, but he said he’s “positive” about NASCAR’s work to diversify the garage and the grandstands alike.

And a win from Wallace – the only Black driver currently in the Cup Series who’s behind the wheel of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota – could expedite some of those efforts.

“For young, Black youth or youth of color, they need to see more professional athletes that appear like them in this sport, right?” Lester said. “They require to see more Bubba Wallaces or Bubba Wallace having more success. It’s going to come. I think, truthfully, that it’s going to come with that program. However you understand, folks are anticipating method excessive prematurely. It’s not going to take place over night. …

“But as soon as somebody like Bubba starts winning and more folks from the Black community start seeing that and realizing that’s something that they can do – because they see that, they have that exposure – then that’ll be something they start trying to do.”

This short article initially appeared on U.S.A. TODAY Sports: NASCAR chauffeur Expense Lester ‘floored’ the sport prohibited Confederate flag

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.