Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A few thoughts on Bill Lester

Bill Lester's participation in Monday's Golden Corral 500 was a very, very big deal. I know there are some NASCAR fans who don't feel that way, but I hope the large majority of true fans who love the sport and want it to flourish for a long time to come understand the significance.
Yes, Bill finished six laps down. What did you expect? He was in a Cup car for the first time in his career with a team that has NO manufacturer's support, at least from the manufacturer of its current cars.
There are many different agendas in every Cup race. A lot of teams go into the race thinking they can win. But the midway point of the race there's only about 8-10 teams still really focused on that. Other teams are just trying to get the best finish they can.
Lester's goal on Monday was to not become a part of the story in the wrong way. He didn't want to have an impact on who won, he didn't want to knock anybody out by making a mistake. He didn't. He wanted to get as much experience as he could and he got 319 laps of it. That part of the mission was accomplished.
Afterward, Lester talked about how he's looking forward to the day when his racing is about racing, not race. We all are. But you have to remember it had been nearly 20 years since an African-American even qualified for a Cup race. If it wasn't a big deal, that gap wouldn't have existed. It won't be 20 years until some other African-American joins Lester in the sport's history. It might not even been two years. And the sooner we lose track of how many black drivers have competed -- or women or Hispanics or Asians or whatever -- the better off the sport is going to be in the long run.
One day, NASCAR is going to get its Tiger Woods. I don't mean somebody who'll dominate the sport the way Woods does golf. I mean a minority participant who is so talented and who accomplishes so much immediately that his credentials can in no way be fairly questioned.
That will be a great day for racing, just like Monday was a great day for Bill Lester.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the norm of race fans and welcome Bill Lester into Nextel Cup as a stock car racer, not as the first black driver in 20 years. I was so disgusted with the media coverage Bill received. It was misguided and not appropriate. I didn't even watch the Atlanta race because of media coverage. The media focused solely on him as a black driver. I've been a fan of Nascar since the 80's and welcome all to the sport, but bringing race into the equation has tarnished Nascar's image and set Nascar back. When we watch football, you don't hear the media comment about how McNabb is the best black quarterback. You hear that McNabb is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Since the Civil Rights Movement we have all fought for equality, for ALL. When you focus on race and not the driver you take something away from that driver and you stereotype that driver. Not to mention taking away the fact that he is a human being, one of God's children. God doesn't view Bill as a black man, but a child of God. It was unacceptable, and I'm still upset by the coverage. I'm happy for Bill. I've watched him in the truck series and he's an awesome race car driver. But he's not awesome because of the color of his skin. He's awesome because he has God given talent.

David, I enjoy your columns and your time on Speed, but you and the other media boys stepped over the line here. Keep race out of sports. Let's focus on driver talents, not race. Until we can take race out of the equation of life, people will always be labeled as such. Damn you boys really messed up here. I'm sure if Bill could have spoke his true feelings he would tell you he wants to be judged as a racer, not a black driver.