Bill Lester: the first black driver to win a Grand Am race He left his day job to pursue racing full time
Bill Lester is the first black driver to win a Grand Am race.
Born: Feb. 6, 1961
His story: Lester was born in Washington, D.C. and moved with his family to the San Francisco, California area. His parents took him to a race track when he was 8 years old, and from there he was hooked on auto racing. He later enrolled in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) driving school. Lester, after getting his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley, worked at Hewlett-Packard for 16 years while racing on the weekends. He competed in SCCA races, winning regional rookie of the year in 1985. He continued as a weekend racer until 1998, when he took a leave of absence from his job to pursue the sport full time. In 1999, Lester became the first black driver to compete in NASCAR’s Busch series, now the Xfinity Series. He also competed in NASCAR’s truck series and took part in the Champ Car African-American driver development program. Lester joined Wendell Scott as the only black drivers to win a pole position for a major NASCAR race when he finished first in qualifying for the 2003 Hardee’s 200 truck race. He raced twice in NASCAR’s top division, the former Nextel Cup Series, in 2006. He returned to the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series in 2008, and three years laster he won at Virginia International Raceway to become the first black driver to finish first in a Grand Am division race.
Fast fact: Lester is the first black driver and first truck series driver to appear on a cereal box (Honey Nut Cheerios in 2003).
Quotable: Lester’s father earned a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from Catholic University. “I can definitely lay credit to my role model being my father, “Lester told the African Americans in Motor Sports website. “He’s a very strong man, a very strong African-American, and a very accomplished man at the same time.”
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