Bill Lester Driving into History
Friday, March 17, 2006
Atlanta resident Bill Lester will make history during tonight's Georgia Power Qualifying session, when he will be the first African American in 20 years to attempt to qualify for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race. Lester will pilot the No. 23 Waste Management car, fielded by Bill Davis Racing, in his attempt for Sunday's Golden Corral 500. Lester will also race in tonight's John Deere 200 Craftsman Truck race for BDR.
"I love Atlanta Motor Speedway; I love tracks like this. I'm in my hometown, I feel very comfortable here, and the city has embraced me," Lester said during a press conference Friday to announce his three-race NEXTEL Cup schedule with Waste Management, a program termed the "Drive Into History". "I have extremely high confidence going into tonight based on our test at Kentucky."
Lester said he also hopes his presence in NASCAR helps propel the sport's diversity program.
"I think I can be a catalyst for change," Lester said. "Every time I bring a friend to the race, they immediately become a fan. It blows them away. It's never something they think they would like. But as more people of color realize there are drivers out there, as they are exposed to it more, things will change. When they see me race on network TV, that's going to be the catalyst for change."
Lester said he didn't see the lack of diversity in NASCAR as a racial divide, but rather as a matter of exposure and opportunity.
"Most kids in the inner city don't have the opportunity to go to the race track," Lester said. "They're exposed to stick and ball sports, music. Once you have that exposure, you have to be able to participate, and then that's when the financial aspect comes in. If you're not born in the sport and not exposed to it at a young age ... I'm one of the anomalies."
NASCAR President Mike Helton also addressed the diversity issue, saying, "We're proud of our diversity efforts in NASCAR, and although we didn't think there were any barriers there, the perception was there. Our diversity program is an ongoing effort, not an overnight fix, but we're proud of our efforts."
URBAN YOUTH LEARN IN ATLANTA
Four students from Philadelphia's Urban Youth Racing School (UYRS) will get a little hands-on training during this weekend's John Deere 200 Craftsman Truck race. Danny Colon, Shawnna Stanton, Kristopher Fuller and Nkosi Harmon, all from Philadelphia, will team with four Craftsman Truck teams as they participate in this intense internship-type program designed to educate and train today's urban youths through exposure to the automotive and motorsports industry. The teams hosting a UYRS member are Circle Bar Racing, Darrell Waltrip Motorsports, Morgan-Dollar Motorsports and Red Horse Racing.
Rick Crawford's Circle Bar Racing team has paired with UYRS student Danny Colon, and Crawford joked that Colon couldn't stay long at a Friday afternoon press conference because he had a lot of work left to do on the Circle Bar No. 14 Ford truck.
"This program really helps the kids expand their knowledge of NASCAR," Crawford said. "It teaches them little by little about the sport, the tools, the officials, everything. And then when they come into the shop, these kids know how to act and what to do. Every major city in the U.S. ought to have something like the Urban Racing School. It gives these kids direction, something missing in a lot of households today."