By Jeffery Armstrong
ATLANTA ? NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Bill Lester and Bobby Hamilton spoke to a group of youngsters Wednesday night at Inner Strength, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that tries to reduce delinquent behaviors among young, urban males and provide them with opportunities to gain self-respect and self-esteem through various projects and events.
Lester and Hamilton were on hand as part of the program's Out of Urban Experiences, where the youth go on adventures outside of the neighborhood, like hiking, rafting and camping.
Larry Dorfman, CEO of Inner Strength, started the program by telling the youth that going to see Lester, Hamilton and the other Truck Series drivers on March 13 at Atlanta Motor Speedway would be another Out of Urban Experience that they hopefully would enjoy. The youth were treated to a video presentation about Truck Series driving and then listened intently as Lester and Hamilton spoke to them.
"I was more into stick and ball sports until my father took me to a NASCAR race when I was eight," Lester told the youth. "I loved everything about it n the speed of the cars, the excitement, everything."
Lester stressed to the youth that getting an education is very important. He said that since he wasn't able to get into racing via money or a racing family, he decided to go to college and get his engineering degree so he could make enough money to get started in racing. Lester started in sports car racing, then moved up to stock car racing and now is racing trucks.
He told the youth that perseverance is also a good trait to have. Lester has faced a lot of discouragement and frustration, especially since he's an African-American driver, but he told the youth that he has overcome all the naysayers and is still going. He told them to stick to their goals and don't let anyone tell them they can't do what they want to do.
Lester told the youth was that there are many opportunities for blacks in NASCAR besides driving.
"You guys can be mechanics or you can get into merchandising, advertising and public relations," Lester said.
Hamilton, who hired Lester as a driver in the past, didn't secure a college education like Lester, but he did work hard to become a race car driver. He told the youth they have to do the same thing.
"You guys need to pick a goal and be motivated and focused on it," Hamilton said. "That's the way to succeed."
Hamilton's home life wasn't the greatest and didn't stay in school, but he told the story of how his son wanted to race and didn't want to do well in school. Hamilton built his son a car and took him to races, but told him that if he didn't do well in school, he wouldn't attend any more races. Needless to say, Hamilton's son started doing better in school.
Dorfman, who took on the position of CEO after the untimely death of founder Val Joseph last year, said he was happy his youth were able to hear the presentations.
"They are dying to go to the truck race in March n I just asked them about that," he said.
Twelve-year-old DeAnthony Moon said he liked the presentations. He said he likes the thought of racing a car really fast and would love to do it for fun.
"I also enjoyed learning how drivers are safe in their cars and that I need to get my education," said Moon, who aspires to be a film director like Steven Spielberg, his idol.
Jabari Fletcher, 14, said he was impressed with Lester and Hamilton. He said he had fun and is really looking forward to the truck race.
"I can't wait to see a truck go 180 miles per hour; that will be great," Fletcher said. "I can't believe that it gets so hot in the car, like 160 degrees. That's wild."
Cynthia Holly, Inner Strength Chief Operation Officer and Co-Executive Director, said she was so excited for the youth to see these drivers.
"This was an excellent event. The kids now realize that they have other opportunities in racing and that's great," said Holly. "I was pleased that both drivers told them to be focused on what they want to do in life."