Driver Profile: Matt Bell

What Happens When It Must Be Spring (Racing Has Truly Returned)

2:56pm EST — This weekend, Grand-Am returns to the track at Homestead-Miami.  Racing for the Continental Tire Challenge, in the Stevenson Motorsports Sunoco Camaro with last week’s driver profile Jeff Blackmun, will be Matt Bell.  Bell and Bucknum finished fifth in the Continental Tire race at Daytona and the end of January, while Bell also raced in the GT class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, finishing 10th in class and 17th overall.  The 24-year-old won twice in the GS class in the Continental Challenge in 2009, his first season in the series and had five pole positions.  He also raced in the 2009 American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.  I spoke to Bell about his racing interests, his future plans, and how he hopes to extend his career beyond racing.

How did you get into racing?
I was always a motorhead, interested in everything fast, planes, cars, everything.  What fascinated me was the excitement, not just going fast, but how quickly they could turn and the reading of the gauges.  When it came to cars, I was intrigued by how cars drive sideways and having that kind of control over mechanical objects.  Playing with toy cars as a kid, I would think about drifting them.  My family has always had a strong interest in racing.  In preschool, in the oval area where parents came to pick up the kids, they would give us little pedal carts to race when the weather was nice, and I was the kid always going sideways.
I loved watching racing on TV in the heyday of IndyCar, and the sound of the Audi five cylinder.  In eighth grade [about 13 years old for the non-American readers], I went to my first track day, and went form seeing things on TV to being in the car with my dad.  From then, it was official, cars were my life.  It was cars, racing, BMW.  I began racing about 2 years ago.  I did a lot of track days, focusing on strange things: I’d imagine what it would feel like to drift, to downshift.  It wouldn’t take me so long to get things right because I had already imagined it.  I didn’t have to go through the standardized paths of learning.
I got into BMW club racing through VJ Mirvayan and had a lucky break with family friend Will Turner, who brought me into the Grand-Am stuff.  Right now, I’m trying not to get stuck in class.  I have too many friends that get overlooked.  If you’re winning, finishing well, you have to look up.  Like, I have the Stevenson ride in the Continental Challenge for the season, but I had a clause in my contract that I would race in the 24 and other races in the team’s Rolex GT car.  Like, I raced in the GT2 class in the Petit Le Mans last year, you should always be trying new things.  We’re still working out which races I’ll be in the Rolex series, but I am the back-up driver for the season.  [Bell is not listed on the entry list for the Rolex race at Homestead-Miami]

Speaking of your having raced in ALMS, what are the differences between ALMS and Grand-Am, as a driver?
They are a little different; they’re aimed at two different things.  ALMS is more for the factory teams, which are growing in Grand-Am.  Also, ALMS is more for may types.  The rules are different, too.  In ALMS, the GT/GT2 cars are much faster, as fast as the DPs in Grand-Am.  I struggled a bit because it was new and different.  There’s a big difference between the production cars (for the Continental Challenge) and the race-built cars.  No more of that comfort, like a street car.  In the GT class [for the Rolex series], is doesn’t matter if you’re uncomfortable, unless it makes you drive slower.

Since you’re always looking to move forward and grow, what are you looking to do in the near future?
Moving forward is doing something new.  Right now I’m keeping it in the family, looking for a full season Rolex GT ride, but I’m willing to try anything.  When I cannot go faster, that’s the end.

You didn’t follow the open-wheel route…
I’m not all that interested in cars that are all the same [the way IndyCars have the same chassis, etc.].

When you’re not racing, do you watch racing, what do you like to be a spectator of?
It really depends on my moods.  I always love to watch rallying, and of course, F1 is the pinnacle of racing.  I always like to see people at their best.  I always try to improve myself, I like to watch the in-car cameras to see what Sebastian Loeb is doing [in WRC].  I have some new wild interest everyday.  If I don’t have the capacity to be the best in something, I give up.  I was never athletic as a kid, so I didn’t get interested in the usual sports.  I’ve always been fascinated by engineering, always asking why? and wanting to know the science behind things.
I used to think that I wouldn’t be involved in racing if I couldn’t drive, thinking “how could you stop racing?” but the more I race, now I see how I would want to keep my hand in the sport.  I’d like to design new parts or my own car, maybe a new hybrid.  When I was in community college, I was in transportation design, but I didn’t want to just make cars pretty, I wanted to be useful.  You have to put your heart in it to do anything right.  I do want to go back to school, but for now I want to go racing, since I have the opportunity to do so.

To see live coverage in the States of the Grand-Am Rolex Grand Prix of Miami, watch SPEEDtv Saturday, March 6 at 5pm EST.

[click these links to see previous driver profiles, including Grand-Am/ALMS driver Ian James and Pacific F2000/Grand-Am driver  Jeff Westphal]


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