Derek’s delight over Goodwood’s revival

Bell 257.tif
Bell 257.tif

DEREK Bell, one of Britain’s best-loved racing drivers, leads the international life with a busy work schedule in the States.

But he remains - and will always be - a Pagham boy at heart.

Derek (pictured right) lives in Florida, heavily involved with Bentley, but he’s still got a home in Pagham and will be over in West Sussex for the Goodwood Revival.

“I’ll always be English,” he laughs. “You don’t change.”

And nor do the things that matter, as he approaches his 70th birthday later this year, a landmark he is signalling with the publication of his autobiography Derek Bell: My Racing Life (Haynes Publishing).

The volume is a fully updated edition of an earlier work, which came out in 1987, recounting the highs and lows of a life-long love affair with motor-racing.

“So many people were wanting to know what I have been doing in the last 23 years,” Derek said. “This is a very different book.”

Inevitably, Sussex looms large as Derek, with the help of motorsport journalist, Alan Henry, charts his journey from club racing at Goodwood, close to his family home on the Sussex coast, to international renown as one of the world’s finest-ever endurance sports car drivers.

Bell famously achieved this status through multiple triumphs at Le Mans and the Daytona 24 Hours, during a distinguished and hugely-varied racing career stretching over 40 eventful years.

Having honed his burgeoning talent in the cut-and-thrust of international Formula 3 and Formula 2 during the 1960s, Bell was catapulted into the Ferrari Formula 1 team at the age of 26.

It was Goodwood that set him on his way: “I won my first race there in 1964. I won an alarm clock for that. I have still got it on my shelf at Pagham. When they closed Goodwood, I was so upset. Goodwood was my home track. It was my dream to win a big international race there.

“I was bitter and twisted about it closing,” Derek admits. “I had no patience in my opinion for the reasons that it was closing. I was a bit outspoken about it in the local papers! But I was just disappointed. It was my home track and I wanted to win races. In hindsight, I totally realise why it happened.”

The result was that Derek had to win elsewhere - and he did so spectacularly, delighted now at the recent resurgence - in rather different form - of Goodwood motorsport.

“Somebody said to me ‘Are you a daredevil?’ But I think I am actually a lot more calculating than that”, says Derek - and that’s probably the key to his survival.

“I have been lucky, but I think I know my limits. I think I knew how far to go. Having said that, I had some monumental crashes in the early years, mostly when the car fell apart.”

When he got a good car, he was well placed to enjoy it: “You need to have had poor cars to really appreciate the good ones!

“All I know is that I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time - most of the time. I didn’t get particularly hurt. I was upside down in a ditch in Naples once. But I was never badly hurt. The worst was probably when I got hurt doing the Steve McQueen movie. That was the only time I ended up in hospital.

“No, I wouldn’t say that I am crazy, but I always enjoy the challenge. I would do anything in a car. I have got far too much confidence!”

Derek Bell: My Racing Life by Derek Bell & Alan Henry is published at £35 (ISBN: 978 0 85733 088 8).