Updated: Jun 7
This was the first major publication written by retired auto racer Bill Lester in regards to his racing career.
He's won many awards, some great races, and been recognized by his peers in his former field of work in computer engineering as well. When I found out that Bill was sharing a detailed exploration of his story, it was one that I wanted to read. Not as a member of NASCAR's independent media, but as a fan.
At 9 years of age I learned about former NASCAR winner Wendell Scott's career. It bothered me to hear the reasons why he was not always embraced. As we got older, my brother and I had many favorites, and Bill Lester was one of them. Truthfully. The fact that he was a black man in a white man's world created a major part of our support of him. His poise and calm demeanor ordered you to pay attention as well. He meant business, and we were fans.
We appreciated his proper grammar and larger vocabulary that was not always used by drivers in motorsports. We also loved his clean racing style that complimented international racing techniques that are sometimes forgotten about in stock car racing. I always dreamt that Bill would have an opportunity to grow and create a world class stat sheet that we could brag about to his haters. His numbers may not replicate those of Mario Andretti, but his story and adversity have not been met by many in the motorsports community.
The book 'Winning in Reverse: Defying the Odds and Achieving Dreams—The Bill Lester Story' I will humorously say has the longest title of anything I've read in 2020. It is a non-fiction memoir and Bill doesn't hold anything back. Co-written by Jonathan Ingram and intended for fans of motorsports primarily, this story should be one of encouragement, especially young men and women who feel that their world lacks diversity or their race or gender has caused a professional road block. He proves that all obstacles can be avoided through hard work and commitment, while also being vocal about the unfair circumstances that are facing minorities in most professional fields.
He arranges the book in chronological order for the most part, sharing several stories of his youth and young adult life. We follow along with Bill as he tells stories of defeat and his earliest of racing and automotive memories that started instantaneously as a young boy attending his first race. He fell in love with his first Mazda and his need for speed grew with improvements that were made to his different cars through the years. He wasn't afraid to push his driving abilities to the absolute limit, experiencing multiple automobile crashes on the civilian roads. The odds weren't always stacked against him, Lester notes that he may have gotten out of multiple speeding tickets along the way because he knew the right people.
There are several themes introduced in the first chapter and I'll let you get an opportunity to read the book to learn about each of them, but the one that I think is the most important to his success is Bill's amazing ability to network. Whether it was with fellow black racer Willy T Ribbs or former CEO of McDonald's Ed Rensi, Bill was not phased by the success of another individual. Instead, his writings imply that he found comfort in approaching successful people. He would work hard to mutually benefit all parties and in some ways allowed his influences to become his mentors.
His Story in NASCAR..
Bill has 3 stories in one. He is an engineer from a highly respected school. He is a black American race car driver. And he is a student of business.
Part of the business aspect that supported Bill's growing opportunities for racing came after he had tried to compete in sports cars and chased for the end of a rainbow in an attempt to drive open-wheeled race cars.
An opportunity for funding from Dodge Motorsports steered him towards NASCAR, a sport that he wasn't always the most fond of due to the deeply-southern rooted fan base flying confederate flags and using racial slurs at the track.
After some time racing for Dodge, a follow up opportunity with Toyota helped allow Bill to compete on a full-time basis in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series tour and contend for victories with other full-time and better funded competitors including past champions Johnny Benson and Mike Skinner.
Unlike so many of the drivers in the sport who had sponsors lining up to slap their logo on the side of their racing vehicles, Bill was often times left to provide or arrange for his own sponsorship...or go underfunded. This never stopped his will to succeed. Ongoing networking lined him up with an opportunity to qualify at Atlanta in NASCAR's Cup Series in 2006 and he became one of few African-Americans to start in NASCAR's most elite circuit. This taking place at age 45 also made him one of the oldest 'rookies' the sport had ever seen.
Bill would not race in the Cup Series after 2006 and found opportunities again in truck, as well as endurance racing where he won his first professional auto event at Virginia in 2011. This victory would be his final one as he retired shortly thereafter in 2012. Since his retirement, the iconic racer has used his large platform to represent auto racing, businesses, and the black community in engaging in and helping bring an end to racial injustice. His loud support for newly famed Darrell Wallace Jr. is audible and understood, as a new generation of diverse drivers is starting to make a name for themselves following in Lester's shoes.
A recommended read for many, this book will make you believe that your dreams are so much more than 'what-if' scenarios. You can pre-order it online where all books are sold. Title comes out in February 2021.