Posted on May 19, 2011

Bill Lester Wants to Take Race out of Racing

Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel, May 17, 2011


“Throughout my career, I’ve been described as a black driver,” says [Bill] Lester, who moved to Orlando a few months ago when his wife Cheryl became a regional general manager of Wal-Mart Central Florida. “I can tell you that’s not how I perceive myself. It’s a label put on me by the media and the public. It’s their doing, not mine. I have very little control over it.”

Especially in the aftermath of Lester’s historic victory Saturday when he became the first black driver to ever win a GRAND-AM Road Racing event. {snip}


But racing has always been different, especially stock-car racing in the South. Here’s all you need to know: The GRAND-AM series is now owned by NASCAR, which means Lester is the first black driver to win a NASCAR event in a national series since Wendell Scott’s Sprint Cup victory nearly a half-century ago. Ironically, Lester’s victory on Saturday came in Danville, Va.–the hometown of the late Scott, who remains a sad symbol for one of the most shameful events in major sports history.

The day of Dec. 1, 1963 will always live in NASCAR infamy. For it was that day in Jacksonville when Scott became the first black man to ever take the checkered flag at a NASCAR event, but race organizers shamefully refused to recognize him as the winner.

They instead awarded the victory to a white man, Buck Baker, who was three laps behind when Scott crossed the finish line. NASCAR claimed a scoring error had occurred, but Scott knew the real story. “Everybody in the place knew I had won the race,” he told a reporter before he died in 1990, “but the promoters and NASCAR officials didn’t want me out there kissing any beauty queens or accepting any awards.”