Bell still chasing his dream
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist
Last week I had the opportunity to interview T.J. Bell, a former local racer who is now living on Lake Norman in Mooresville, N.C., pursuing a career in professional Motorsports.
I first encountered T.J. when he was a teenager, racing karts at Desert Park Raceway north of Reno, with occasional appearances in an outlaw kart at Fuji Speedway in Carson City. Now 25 years old, Bell has had some success in a number of open-wheel and stock car series, and is looking for that one big break that all young racers hope for.
Before moving south three and a half years ago to try his hand a stock cars, Bell worked his way through the open-wheel road racing ladder series. I encountered him at Road Atlanta in 2000, when he won his first race in the competitive Formula 2000 series. He then moved up to Formula Atlantic, the feeder series for CART Champ Cars, racing for the Mike Zink and Price Cobb teams.
Then came a stint in the American Lemans series, driving a potent LMP 900 prototype for Factory Ascari at the Daytona 24 hour race, the Sebring 12 hours, and the 24 Hours of Lemans. He lived for three months in England during this period, and did tire testing for Dunlop at the famed Silverstone circuit.
“There’s lots of nasty weather in England, and I got a lot of experience driving in the wet. It really teaches you car control, throttle control, and patience,” said Bell.
In 2003 he landed a limited ride with an under funded NASCAR Craftsman Truck team, learning about racing on ovals. In 2004 he got a good ride in the ARCA series, winning the Rookie of the Year title and finishing third in the points. He ran nine Busch series races in 2005, again with an under funded team.
After a good start in ARCA this season (third in points early in the season), he was caught up in several wrecks and dropped down the points list. But he has a big opportunity coming up, a test with a new Craftsman Truck team.
Five drivers, including Bell, will test the team’s new trucks, which are currently under construction, in late August or early September, at a location to be determined. One driver will be selected to drive for the team in 2007.
“I can’t reveal the name of the team. They are not in the Truck series now, but are active in other divisions. We don’t even know what track we’re going to test at, and the date depends on when the trucks get built,” noted Bell.
When asked what it was like to be a young driver trying to land a ride in a top series, Bell said, “Well, I was at Indy last weekend with my helmet bag. I always carry that with me. I spend a lot of time at the tracks even when I’m not racing, talking to the mechanics, the crew chiefs, the car chiefs, getting to know them and letting them get to know me. I also go around to the shops during the week. Getting a ride at this level depends a lot on timing, getting the right breaks.”
Asked if he would go back to open-wheel or road racing if the opportunity arose, he said that he would.
“But I like stock cars because you get to race just about every weekend, and I love racing. I learn a lot every time I’m out there. The big difference between open wheel and stock cars is the heat. These things get incredibly hot, especially during a long race with lots of cautions.”
Bell doesn’t get home to Northern Nevada often, but may be in the area next weekend for his girlfriend’s birthday. That is, if he doesn’t land an ARCA ride at Michigan that weekend. If he comes for a visit, look for him at Reno-Fernley Raceway on Saturday night, probably with his helmet bag in hand.
If you want to hear more about the exploits of T.J. Bell, tune in to the local ESPN radio station (AM 630) on Saturday mornings. If he’s not racing, T.J. fills in hosts Todd Bruso and Chris Coclich on NASCAR topics and the latest twists and turns of his career.