Lester Is the First Black NASCAR Cup Qualifier in 20 Years

March 20, 2006 — -- Bill Lester stands out from the stereotypical NASCAR driver for many reasons: He is 45. He's a Berkeley-educated engineer. He once held a six-figure job at Hewlett-Packard, which he left to pursue his dream.

But, what everyone is talking about this morning is how Lester became the first African-American in nearly 20 years to qualify for a NASCAR cup race by finishing 19th in the qualifying rounds of the Golden Corral 500 over the weekend.

"It's a wealth of emotions, but the most overriding one is just extremely joyful," Lester said. " I mean, I'm so happy."

Rain at the Atlanta Motor Speedway postponed the NASCAR race moments before its scheduled start on Sunday. It is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET today.

"I just hope that the African-American community -- minorities in general -- realize that NASCAR's a fun sport."

In the early '60s, legendary driver Wendell Scott paved the road for NASCAR diversity with 495 races and one first-place finish. Willy T. Ribbs made his mark in 1986, qualifying for three events. Now, the checkered flag has been handed off to Lester. He hopes other minorities will follow his lead.

"This is an open door," Lester said. "NASCAR's rolled out the red carpet. It's up to them to walk on it."