Recent times have provided surprising developments in all facets of life and motorsport is no exception. In the case of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, its Fr8Auctions 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will see Bill Lester run his first NASCAR race since 2007 when he drives the #17 Ford F-150 for David Gilliland Racing.
Lester declared his intention to run the race during the 26 February episode of NASCAR RaceHub on FS1 with support from local Ford dealerships and businesses but lacked the sufficient primary sponsors. During his interview with the show, which included a brief gaffe in which he referred to the Truck Series by its former Craftsman title sponsorship, he explained his interest in NASCAR never wavered over the decades and that he was “just excited by a lot of changes that I see in NASCAR.”
Two weeks later, DGR confirmed he will drive their #17 F-150 in the Atlanta race with sponsorship from Ford and Camping World. The latter’s CEO Marcus Lemonis has been on a sponsorship spree in recent weeks which included placing his company on ten trucks during last Friday’s race at Las Vegas.
“I’m excited to get back behind the wheel in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and I want to thank David Gilliland Racing for their help in making this happen,” Lester stated. “It’s been more than a few years since my last race in the series, but to have strong partners like the Greater Atlanta Ford Dealers, Camping World, and Tommy’s Express Car Wash joining me for my return means a lot and I am honored to have them on-board. I look forward to competing at my home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and hope to make all those who are supporting me proud.”
From 2002 to 2006, Lester was the first and only full-time black driver in the Truck Series, racing for the long-defunct Bobby Hamilton Racing and Bill Davis Racing. He scored seven top-ten finishes, three poles, and a best race finish of fifth on two occassions (both in 2005) while his highest standings position was fourtenth in 2003. Lester also recorded starts in the Cup and what is now the Xfinity Series, the former of which came in 2006 and saw him become the first black Cup racer since Willy T. Ribbs in 1986.
His last NASCAR action came in 2007 when he ran much of the Truck season for Billy Ballew Motorsports, including scoring a top ten, before losing the seat due to sponsorship troubles. While he has not raced in NASCAR since, he remained involved in the industry as a member of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel which oversees matters like suspension appeals.
Much of Lester’s racing experience comes in sports cars, and he committed to regular competition in the Rolex Sports Car Series (now the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship) after his NASCAR departure from 2008 to 2012. He scored a win at Virginia International Raceway in 2011 and five podiums with a third-place points finish that same year.
Atlanta was the site of Lester’s Cup début in 2006, where he finished thirty-eighth for Davis. In six Truck starts at the Georgia circuit, his best finish is fifteenth in 2004, though his first three races there saw top-ten starting positions.
Across the first three Truck races, the #17 has been driven by team owner David Gilliland and Riley Herbst; Cup drivers Kevin Harvick and Ryan Preece are also scheduled to make starts in the truck. DGR’s full-time drivers Hailie Deegan and Tanner Gray will serve as Lester’s team-mates.