A Night with Derek Bell

Last night, my dad took me to a dinner at a local car club he belongs to. The featured speaker of the evening was Derek Bell, the famous British racecar driver. In case you’re not familiar with him, here’s a little background. Derek started racing a Lotus 7 when he was twenty-three, and quickly worked his way up to racing Formula 1 cars for Ferrari. Among his most impressive achievements, he has won Le Mans (the oldest endurance car race) five times, and 24 Hours of Daytona (an American endurance race) three times.

We arrived towards the end of the dinner, because my parents were attending their friend’s fiftieth birthday party, which also marked his fifth year as a cancer survivor. Derek hadn’t spoken yet, so we inhaled our Caesar salads and short ribs (which were excellent) while introducing ourselves to the others at our table. After dinner was cleared, the president of the club introduced Derek, who began by talking about some of his experiences racing. He started by showing us what it was like to race in Le Mans; he narrated as we watched some video taken from a camera attached to his car on a qualifying lap. I cannot begin to describe how exhilarating it was watching a POV shot of him doing 234 m.p.h. on the Mulsanne Straight. Moving on, he spoke about the making of the 1971 movie Le Mans, which he starred in with Steve McQueen.

After he finished with his presentation, he opened up the floor to questions from the audience. Although I don’t remember all of them, they brought up some interesting topics, such as why he was so successful with some of his teammates, especially Jacky Ickx, with whom he won Le Mans three times. He also talked about his son, Justin, who decided he wanted to become a racer. When the questions were finished, Dad approached him after the event and asked if he could sign a few books (of course, he brought four). Mr. Bell thought it was great that Dad and I are rebuilding an old muscle car, and he gave me some advice on driving a Mustang (they handle terribly). He was incredibly nice, and he showed a lot of interest when you were talking… he wasn’t always babbling about himself. I was glad to have an opportunity to meet him.