Why Bill Lester Came Out of Retirement to Race NASCAR Trucks

Bill Lester has another story to tell.

It’s been eight years since Lester last took a green flag and it’s been another six since his last appearance in NASCAR. But even after publishing an inspirational memoir with journalist Jonathan Ingram, the 60-year-old from Oakland, California has more chapters to write.

Lester will tell you that the memoir, Winning In Reverse: Defying the Odds and Achieving Dreams, isn’t a biography.

“It’s definitely not an autobiography,” Lester said. “I want to make that very clear. It’s actually a motivational story with a motorsports backdrop. It’s my backdrop, my story, in terms of how I was able to live my dream.”

It’s not biographical because Lester seemingly has another chapter or two remaining.

“Since we released (the memoir) just recently, I thought, you know what, why not give it a little bit of an extra boost and publicity by getting out there and practicing what I preach,” Lester said. “I talk about getting out of your comfort zone, and this will truly be an example of my getting out of my comfort zone.”

For the first time in 14 years, Lester will race in the NASCAR Truck Series this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway — a series in which he earned two top-5s and seven top-10s in 142 starts from 2000-2007 primarily with Bobby Hamilton Racing and Bill Davis Motorsports.

That was an example of getting out of his comfort zone, too.

Lester is a 1984 Cal-Berkeley graduate, who worked with Hewlett-Packard, and earned sports car championships across the west coast during the weekends. He lived the gentleman driverlife for a decade before taking a leap of faith towards NASCAR at the urging of his wife, Cheryl, who essentially told him ‘quit talking about racing full-time and actually do it.’

With the support of Dodge, who launched a diversity and inclusion program in the early 2000s, Lester was able to kickstart a solid decade as a full-time racer, which culminated in a sports car victory at Virginia International Raceway in 2011.

He was the first Black competitor to win a race under what is now the IMSA sanctioning body. He retired from full-time racing in 2012. Largely at peace with his career, he never felt an itch to return to competition until this past winter nearing the release date of his memoir.

Setting the goal of racing near his Atlanta home, Lester secured about half the funding needed to rent a competitive ride with support from the Greater Atlanta Ford Dealers and Tommy’s Express Wash. Ever the promoter, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis covered the remaining cost, and a deal was quickly consummated with David Gilliland Racing to race on Saturday at Atlanta.

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 into the deep end at one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, without practice,” Lester said. “I made my Cup debut here in 2006 so I have fond memories of racing here and the stars aligning and taking advantage of an opportunity to give more legs to my book and practice what I preach.”

This isn’t the Truck Series he remembers, and he knows it.

Lester raced prior to the era of spec engines and tapered spacers. His heyday emphasized racing the track and keeping a truck with 750 horsepower pointed the right direction.

“When were spinning the motors as high as 8,900 RPM and then they brought in the gear rule that lowered us to 8,500 and now they’re droning around at 7,000 and I’m like, ‘wow, this is low.’

“But I’ve been told these trucks have a lot of torque and you have to race with a lot of momentum because they don’t pick back up when the manufacturers were producing their own separate engines. So that’s going to obviously be an adjustment for me. I’m not sure what that feels like, but I’m going to obviously find out here a short order.”

At 60-years-old, Lester isn’t sure if this is officially his retirement race, but he’s aware Father Time is working against him … even if he doesn’t look a day over 40.

This impending appearance comes back to the memoir and the story Lester is hoping to share with you through it.

What comes next is an unwritten chapter.

“Every once in a while, I would kind of go scratch the competitive juices in a kart, but I never had a real desire to race full-time or professionally,” Lester said. “I just saw this as a great opportunity to give legs to the book. It was a great scenario. I thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like to get behind the wheel of a NASCAR vehicle after not racing one for 14 years and at 60 years of age.

“I’m no 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 wouldn’t be doing this. At the same time, I don’t have anything to prove to anyone but to myself. I want to prove to myself that I can still do it. I want to give myself that extra longevity, and I really do believe people can take a lot form my memoir if they sit down and read it.”

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