Bill Lester Felt 'Uncomfortable' as NASCAR's Only Black Driver in Early 2000s

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2020

Bill Lester smiles prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Nextel Cup 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Friday, June 16, 2006. Lester, the first black driver to race in NASCAR's top stock car series in 20 years, backed up his solid qualifying run in March at Atlanta with another strong performance qualifying 34th. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
PAUL SANCYA/Associated Press

Bill Lester, once the only Black driver in NASCAR, said he was often booed by fans during his time competing, per Mike Hembree of USA Today:

"I never felt threatened, but I was made to feel uncomfortable. I was fine in the garage area, but getting to the garage area, there was definitely some anxiety. At Las Vegas or Fontana (Calif.), I had no concerns. It was mostly a Southeast thing. Going from the parking lot to the track at Martinsville, oh man, I definitely felt my blood pressure rising on a couple of occasions."

The 59-year-old competed from 1999 to 2007, participating in the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck series.

Though he had a limited run in the Cup Series, he spent a lot of time in the Truck Series and earned two top-five finishes in 2005. He was also the last Black driver to compete in NASCAR on a regular basis until Bubba Wallace joined the organization.

Despite the limited diversity within the sport, NASCAR has taken major steps toward improving racial justice in recent weeks amid nationwide protests.

The organization banned the Confederate Flag at events, while drivers showed support for Wallace after a noose was found in his garage. The FBI later determined it was not a hate crime

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Lester is impressed with the progress he has seen from the sport:

"I'm very pleased at the stance that NASCAR has taken. It's long overdue. I would have loved to have been able to have the platform that Bubba was given because of the unfortunate deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Bubba called for change, and NASCAR was receptive, as a lot of the country is receptive to change."

The former driver is hoping to take part in further diversity initiatives within NASCAR.

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