CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Lester, one of only a handful of Black drivers to ever race full-time in NASCAR, will return to competition 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 first NASCAR start for the 60-year-old since 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 quit his job at age 40 to pursue a racing career.
“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 career NASCAR starts, primarily in the third-tier Truck Series from 2002 through 2007. He was the first Black driver to compete in an Xfinity Series race in 1999, and his 2006 start in the Cup race at Atlanta made him the first Black driver to race at NASCAR's top level since Willy T. Ribbs nearly 20 years earlier.
Lester returns to a far more progressive sport that in the last year has confronted its checkered racial history. Bubba Wallace is the only current full-time Black driver in NASCAR and is one of only eight Black drivers in history to compete at the Cup level.
Wallace last year successfully pushed NASCAR to ban from its events the Confederate Flag, a Southern symbol of the Civil War often displayed by fans at racetracks.