Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Justin Bell visits No Fenders...

Justin Bell with Tanner Foust
If you’re a Hard Core racing enthusiast, then most likely Y’all know that Justin Bell is the son of five times Le Mans winner Derek – who although Justin admits great admiration and respect for, along with having spent considerable time in the cockpit as teammates at Circuit de la Sarthe; instead Justin wishes to remain his own man by not introducing himself as Derek’s son. (Rather that Derek is his father...)

And Justin’s had a fairly diverse Motorsports career – if his WICKEDpedia page is its traditional “69% correct?” Interspersed with his own ‘Offical website’s Bio – Justin has run the gamut from Motocross, Single Seaters, Sports Cars, Trans Am, Driving School, Celebrity Driver Coach and Television Pundit! So where to begin?

Tomaso (T) So I read that you began your climb thru the ranks by going Formula Ford racing, albeit getting ‘Dusted-off by a wee lad named Alan McNish. Who else of notoriety did you race on your way up the ladder and what categories did you race prior to jumping into the ‘BigCarz, i.e.; Porsche 962 at Le Mans?

Justin Bell (JB) Well Alan Mcnish was on the grid with me for my first FF1600 race - my FIRST and for him about his 500th race following his successful KArting career! And yes generally he did kick my ass... Although I was always second! The next season in Opel Lotus Mika Hakinen was added to the grid in the same Marlboro team as Alan. I finished THIRD a lot that season!

(T) I seem to vaguely recall you running a Shell liveried Porsche 962 with your Old Man, which reputedly you ran with him for four years. (1992-96) is that correct or am I confusing it with the Andretti’s? What team(s) did the two of you chauffer for, who were your other co-drivers and what’s your best memory(s) from those races?

(JB) No that must have been the Andretti’s. Dad and I raced a 962 under the ADA banner in 1991 at Le Mans with Tiff Needel. The biggest race together was when I asked him to join Andy Wallace and myself in the Harrods Sponsored McLaren F1 GTR at LM in 1995. Finishing third overall and standing on the podium with Dad was extraordinary. What an experience!

(T) Whale, after having watched your Marshall Pruett Le Mans Debut Flashback video, (above) along with doing some more digging; it (indeed) appears that your first “Proper” Le Mans was in 1992 in a Porsche 962 with your father and Tiff Needel. And then you shared a podium winning McLaren F1 GTR with your dad and Andy Wallace: (Which Justin noted above...) which race was more special?

(JB) Definitely the 1995 LM with the F1 - wow! To drive the coolest car built at the time with Dad was massive.

(T) And I really seemed to first notice you when driving those provocative Dodge Vipers, as I’m guessing your best Le Mans memory is your 1998 class victory. How fun were those Viper GTR’s to drive vs. the Corvette’s – and how do they stack up against each other?

(JB) Yes Racing for Dodge in their World Championship team with Team OReca was definitely the most significant phase of my racing career. We won so many races and of course being the first Driver to win a World Championship for them and then as part of the LM winning team with Luca Drudi and David Donohue - really put me on the map.

Actually for four years our main competition was with Porsche and then Vette reared their fast paced faces at the end of 1999. When I jumped ship to join them!

(T) When did you last race at Le Mans and what was your favourite racecar to drive in the 24 Heurs du Mans. (Besides that memorable Spice-Ferrari Prototype; Hya!)

(JB) Thanks for bringing up the Spice Ferrari... not a positive memory! I last raced for Corvette there in 2000.

(T) And you seem to have an infinity for Hugues de Chaunac, who you drove for – winning in his GT2 Oreca Vipers. What other Owners did you enjoy driving for?

(JB) Racing with Corvette under the mentorship of Doug Fehan was great fun. I admire him a lot - he hired me and had the balls to fire me... his mistake though... lol

(T) Many moons ago, your Dad thru Grand Prix Tours was chauffeuring GPT
Customers around the “Green Hella,” a.k.a. the Nordschleife in a Dodge Viper GTS; of which I seriously wished I’d done. Did that come about thru your being a Dodge factory driver?

(JB) Probably, maybe, likely - no clue actually!

(T) Switching gears – without going into a long Diatribe ‘bout “the Split.” I know another ex-Corvette Racing teammate of yours named “Johnny ‘O” (O’Connell) participated in the 1996 Indy 500, but was unaware that you tried qualifying for that event; reputedly in a 4yr old Lola chassis. Who was that for and can you summarize what happened?

(JB) Bloody awful experience. Terrifying. Shit team and no money. Tony George did not need/want a Brit in the race so no real motivation to help me. End of story.

To show how bad it was - I used to pack my wash bag up every morning just in case someone else was coming back to clear my shit up after what was going to be an eventual accident - and I knew it was serious when Johnny Rutherford suggested to me that I leave and comeback another year... otherwise I may not have that option...!

(T) Whilst searching for a current image of you - I came across a photo with you and Tanner Foust, who just set the record for jumping a PickEmUp truck off the Hot Wheels (“Door”) ramp at this year’s Centennial Indy 500. Do you know Tanner and have you ever competed/worked with him? As I really enjoyed him on the past season’s American version of Top Gear. (Of which a second season of Top Gear USA is currently running on the History channel Sunday evenings...)

(JB) Yes I have a great relationship with Tanner - the first time we worked together was on that event - we had a blast. I think the only thing missing from Top Gear USA is me... lol! He is the best thing on that show at the moment.

(T) Back to the TinTops, albeit I seemingly lost interest in Trans Am after the Tommy Bahamas Qvale (De Tomaso) Mangusta car went away in the early “Ought’s.” (2000’s) Thus I was unaware of your racing in the series. Who did you win R.O.Y. (Rookie Of the Year) Honours for? Did your two victories come with the same team, or did you run for more then one entrant during your three seasons of Trans Am?

(JB) I had a blast in TA - I was with the seasoned Jim Derhaag team and we really got that Orange #40 Vette working well. So yes I won ROTY with that team and the last two races of the season. We actually looked like we were going to win the first race of the year at Long Beach - I came from almost last place to take the lead briefly from Boris Said and Paul Gentilozzi... and then I screwed up with one corner to go!

What a shame that TA didn’t survive - it could have been the best option as a road racing series to rival NASCAR if managed properly...

(T) I recall watching, Err listening to your Dad call a season of Formula 1 upon my local Fox Sports Network (FSN) whilst I was struggling to acquire Speed Vision way back when. Did this have anything to do with giving you the bug to go into Television and how did you get your start.

(JB) No - I loved being interviewed - apparently I did it well. Then being quite a creative person I saw it as my chance to really shine in a world I always wanted to be part of. So I dedicated myself to being a professional TV host in the same way I did to being a racing driver 20 years earlier.

(T) And what’s it like working with Jay Leno?

(JB) I moved to LA to be on his (at the time) new ‘Jay Leno Show’ on NBC. I got to train the celebs to drive the Electric Ford and then interview them for NBC.com. What a great gig and sadly short lived, thanks to that whole Conan /Tonight Show situation.

But Jay has always been great to me - very encouraging and now I still work with him as a special correspondent to Jay Leno’s garage.com.

(T) During your annual ‘CrowdCrawl this year at Le Mans – you mused that it’d be your last Le Mans and from now on you’d be writing books... Was this just some more of your British wit, or is there any truth behind that?

(JB) Purely me goofing around... Just my sense of humour as when I interviewed that British fan wearing fake boobs and with a giant hairy bush peeking out from his ladies thong... I thought I have done it this time!!

(T) And I noticed that SPEED had a pretty Driver “Heavy” announce crew on hand this year, with Calvin Fish, Scott Pruett, Dorsey Schroeder, Brian Till and yourself on hand. (Along with Greg Creamer, Leigh Diffey, Jamie Howe and Andrew Marriot)

Has the SPEED broadcast luminaries (9 On-air personalities) ever gone Go Kart racing and who’d win? (As I’ll put my money upon Leigh Diffey...)

(JB) Leigh would loose...

(T) And have you ever participated in a Barret-Jackson auction besides as a commentator, i.e.; Bidder? And if so what type of Automobile did you buy/wished-to purchase?

(JB) No I knew nothing about them until I worked that B-J Scottsdale last year. Now I love those events - they are incredible to be a part of. I am SO glad I don’t have a bidders paddle - or I would now be the owner of several American muscle cars, a 21 window VW van and several cool Bronco’s... haha.

(T) And lastly, you claim you’re not officially retired as a racer on your bio. Is there any race on your “Bucket-list” you’d like to do; ore are you simply content upon focusing on your television career instead?

(JB) Well I am racing at the Petit Le Mans race at the end of the month with Michael Waltrip in the AF Corse Ferrari F430... so I guess you are correct. I am really looking forward to it. Good to remind people I can still walk it as well as talk it...

Thanxs very much for dropping by and good luck with the book; Hya!

And don’t forget to check out Justin Bell’s Official Website at: justinbell.com

Good Luck with Mikey ‘N Thee 430 Ferrari!