Bill Lester has a different story to tell.
It’s been eight years since Lester last got a green flag, and it’s been another six years since he last appeared on NASCAR. But even after publishing an inspiring essay with journalist Jonathan Ingram, the 60-year-old from Oakland, California still has more chapters to write.
Lester will tell you that the memoirs, Winning In Reverse: Defying Odds and Realizing Dreams, are not a biography.
“It’s definitely not an autobiography,” Lester said. “I want to make that very clear. It’s actually a motivating story with a motorsport background. It’s my background, my story of how I was able to live my dream.”
It’s not biographical because Lester apparently has a chapter or two left.
“Since we only recently published (the memoirs), I thought you know what, why not give a little more boost and publicity by getting out there and doing what I preach,” Lester said. “I’m talking about getting out of your comfort zone and this is really going to be an example of how I get out of my comfort zone.”
For the first time in 14 years, Lester will drive this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Truck Series – a series in which, from 2000 to 2007, with Bobby Hamilton in particular, he finished two top five and seven top 10 Racing and Bill Davis Motorsports achieved placings in 142 starts.
That was also an example of how he got out of his comfort zone.
Lester is a 1984 Cal-Berkeley graduate who worked with Hewlett-Packard and won West Coast sports car championships on weekends. He lived the gentleman driving life for a decade before, at the urging of his wife Cheryl, took a leap of faith in NASCAR, which essentially told him to stop talking about full-time racing and actually do it.
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With the help of Dodge, who launched a diversity and inclusion program in the early 2000s, Lester began a solid decade as a full-time racer that culminated in a 2011 sports car win at Virginia International Raceway.
He was the first black competitor to win a race under what is now the IMSA sanctions authority. In 2012 he retired from full-time racing. He was largely in line with his career and never felt like going back to the competition until last winter just before the release date of his memoir.
Lester set himself a goal of racing near his Atlanta home and, with the help of Greater Atlanta Ford Dealers and Tommy’s Express Wash, secured about half the funds required to rent a competitive ride with David Gilliland Racing quickly closed a deal to race in Atlanta on Saturday.
The deal was brokered through his old crew chief Doug George, who worked with Lester at Billy Ballew Motorsports.
“I could very easily continue to sit on the couch and watch every weekend, but here I am jumping back down one of the fastest tracks on the track without training,” said Lester. “I made my Cup debut here in 2006, so I have fond memories of racing here and the stars lining up and taking the opportunity to give my book some more legs and practice what I preach . “
This isn’t the truck series he remembers and he knows it.
Lester raced before the era of specialty motors and conical spacers. In its heyday, it was important to drive the track and steer a 750 horsepower truck in the right direction.
“When did the motors go as high as 8,900 RPM and then they brought in the gear rule that got us down to 8,500 and now they boom around 7,000 and I think, ‘wow, that’s low.’
“But I’ve been told these trucks have a lot of torque and you have to drive with a lot of momentum because they won’t pick up speed if the manufacturers make their own separate engines. So obviously this will be an adjustment.” Not sure how this feels, but I’m obviously going to find out a quick order here. “
At 60, Lester isn’t sure if this is officially his retirement race, but he knows Father Time is working against him … even if he’s not a day older than 40.
This upcoming gig returns to the memories and story that Lester wants to share with you.
What’s next is an unwritten chapter.
“Every now and then I scraped the competition juices in a kart, but I never really had a desire to drive full-time or professionally,” said Lester. “I just saw this as a great opportunity to give the book legs. It was a great scenario. I figured I was wondering what it would be like to get behind the wheel of a NASCAR vehicle after 14 years I haven’t raced in a long time and at the age of 60.
“I’m not a spring chicken, but I think I keep myself in pretty good shape. This was just the perfect opportunity. I still love racing and still have a passion for it. If I didn’t, I would don’t do it. ” At the same time, I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I want to prove to myself that I can still do it. I want to give myself that extra longevity, and I really believe that people can take a lot from my memoir if they sit down and read it. “
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