NASCAR: 60-year-old driver set for long-awaited return

Bill Lester, NASCAR (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Bill Lester, NASCAR (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images) /

60-year-old Bill Lester is set to return to NASCAR for today’s Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, marking his first NASCAR start since August 2007.

Set to compete for David Gilliland Racing behind the wheel of the #17 Ford in this afternoon’s NASCAR Truck Series race, the Fr8Auctions 200, at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a driver who hasn’t competed in any NASCAR race in well over a decade.

Bill Lester has 145 starts to his name among the three NASCAR national series, the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series. Of those 145 starts, 142 came in the Truck Series, and he recorded career-high finishes of fifth place at Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 2005 season.

The 60-year-old Washington, D.C. native’s most recent NASCAR national series start came in the Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway in August 2007, when he finished in 20th place. But that is set to change this afternoon.

Here is what Lester had to say about his return to the sport, according to

"“I just always in the back of my head kind of wondered what it would be like to go back and compete again. It just was something that was percolating, nothing that was really actionable that I felt I was really going to make any strides towards, but once I started writing my memoir, I started to get more of … I don’t know if you’d call it an itch, but more of an interest.“Just feel like all of the stars have aligned, so here we are. I’ve always felt like I was in good enough shape to do it. I always felt like I had the desire to still race and be competitive and be fast, and we’re just going to find out whether or not that’s all true.”"

But his return to the sport is special in more ways than one.

Back in March 2006, Lester attempted to compete in a Cup Series race for the first time, and he did so at the same location where he is set to return to the sport later today: Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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The odds weren’t in Lester’s favor to qualify for the race, something which would make him the Black driver to compete in a Cup Series race since Willy T. Ribbs did so at Michigan International Speedway in June 1986, nearly 20 years prior.

But he made the 43-car field, and he did so with an impressive 19th place qualifying effort. He ended up finishing in 38th, six laps off the lead lap, but he went on to compete at Michigan International Speedway later that year in June.

In that race, he started in 34th place and finished on the lead lap in 32nd in what remains his most recent Cup Series start. He failed to qualify for the race at Auto Club Speedway that September and hasn’t been back to the sport’s top level since.

Lester, who went on to compete in the Grand-Am Sports Car Series for a few years following his most recent Truck Series start, is set to start this afternoon’s 130-lap race around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) oval in Hampton, Georgia in 31st place after NASCAR used the formula that was introduced last season amid the coronavirus pandemic to set the starting lineup.

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Tune in to Fox Sports 1 at 2:30 p.m. ET for the live broadcast of the Fr8Auctions 200 from Atlanta Motor Speedway.