Bill Lester has had a number of firsts in NASCAR and in racing.
He was the first African-American to run a Busch Series race, at Watkins Glenn, in 1999. In 2006, he was the first African-American to run in a Cup series race in 20 years. Then, in 2011, Lester became the first African-American driver to win in any Grand-Am division.
Through it all, he told CNN in an interview Wednesday, he never felt like he belonged.
His answer came after anchor Brooke Baldwin asked him what he thought about NASCAR owners siding with President Trump and his national anthem stance. (Richard Petty and Richard Childress have said they would fire any employee who took a knee.)
Lester’s long answer was measured, presented from the viewpoint of a man who felt he really had no colleagues in the sport:
“Those that are in NASCAR – that’s a culture. These drivers, these crew members and such, they typically grew up in the Southeast. They grew up together. They came up through the system of short-track racing, dirt-track racing, that sort of thing. They know each other, they all have common beliefs, bonds, culture, and so yeah, they’re all pretty much peas in a pod. This is an over-exaggeration, but for the most part, that’s the case … as opposed to somebody like myself.
“I came from the West Coast in northern California. I have a technical background with a degree in engineering. I came from a completely different type of racing, which is sports car road racing as opposed to NASCAR racing. And when I came over (to NASCAR), believe me, I was not really embraced.
Baldwin then noted that he’d been booed.
“I have been booed, and it was surprising to me because I think that I did a great job behind the wheel. I think that I respected the sport, but for no reason that I can foresee, I was booed. So that happened mostly at tracks where it’s very non-progressive. And I’ll just call it out – Talladega, Alabama. I have never been so uncomfortable in a racing environment as Talladega (Superspeedway) or Martinsville, Virginia, which specifically was one of the places where I was booed very heavily. And I just couldn’t understand why. I’ve never made disparaging remarks or offended anybody to my knowledge, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t really embraced.
“Now, that’s not to a man, I was pleasantly surprised about the fact that there were some fans that really did embrace me and say, ‘We’re happy you’re here,’ but by and large for the most part, when you’re getting booed loud and clear for nothing that you think you deserve, it makes you sit back and take pause.”
Who can watch the entire video above.