By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) driver Christopher Bell. Bell is the 21-year-old driver of the JBL Toyota Tundra who is campaigning for the 2016 Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series, as well as the Championship.
Seth Eggert: When did you first become interested in motorsports?
Christopher Bell: When I grew up my family didn’t have anything to do with motorsports. My Dad was a high school basketball coach. I grew up loving basketball and that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since I could walk I had a basketball in my hand.
Then one of my Dad’s high school kids raced Micro-Sprints in Oklahoma where I grew up. I went to the racetrack with their family when I was three or four and was basically hooked ever since. I got my first car and started practicing when I was five. I raced for the first time when I was around six years old. From that point on I decided that that is what I wanted to do and that is what I set my goals for.
SE: Has it been diffiuclt moving up the ladder, from one class or series to the next?
CB: I think for the most part I was always fairly competitive. Every time we moved to the next class we would struggle a little bit, but once we got going we would be really good. For the most part throughout my career I’ve been extremely successful.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
CB: There’s been quite a few throughout my life. Growing up in Oklahoma there was a guy named Donnie Ray Crawford. He was one of the guys I really looked up to. Unfortunately he passed away a couple of years ago. From Donnie Ray, growing up in Oklahoma, I moved to Ohio and connected with Rick Ferkel who was a legendary Sprint Car racer. He ended up being a lifelong friend and we’re still friends to this day. I’ve always looked up to him on the Sprint Car stuff, went to him for advice, and we became really good friends.
Now I’m moving on to the NASCAR deal. I’m in a really good situation, where I came from the dirt stuff, like Kyle Larson. Larson has been someone I can talk to for advice as well as my car owner Kyle Busch. I have quite a few people where I can get ideas from and bounce back and forth with.
SE: What or who inspires or motivates you?
CB: That’s a tough question. It’s myself more than anything. Everything that I have ever done has come from self-motivations to be the best. Everytime you move up the ladder, from Micro-Sprints, to Restricted-Micros, to Open-Micros, you want to be the best you can be and become the best in that division. That’s my motivation and what inspires me, to become ‘THE’ guy. I want to be ‘THE’ guy, knowing that you have to beat him, and that’s who you’re going to have to beat that night.
SE: Is it intimidating to have the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion as your team owner?
CB: Yes, very. It’s like a double edge sword. It’s an awesome opportunity because you’re getting in the best equipment and the ideal Truck ride. But, Kyle Busch is your owner, and he wins every week himself. He’s expecting his Trucks to win every week. It’s cool to be able to put yourself in this position to drive for Kyle Busch, but it’s really stressful, there’s a lot of pressure put on you.
SE: You have won at Eldora, what other track do you want to win at the most?
CB: I went to Iowa, my first Truck race and ran fifth. I went to Kentucky and it looked like I was going to run well and ended up getting into a crash there at the end. I feel like I’ve been close to winning on pavement, because I feel like the dirt win is a kind of false advertisement. Because I’m a dirt guy, and I should win the dirt race.
Now I want to win on pavement, I want to prove myself on pavement. We had the best Truck at Atlanta, and I made a mistake, got into my teammate, and I think we ran something over and cut the right front tire down at the end of the race. We’ve been really close to winning on pavement, and that’s my next goal.
SE: Describe the transition of moving from dirt track racing to pavement racing.
CB: I think that the dirt, Sprint Car racing teaches you so much because you see so many different scenarios. You’re racing so much, you’re driving so many different kinds of racecars. Well, Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu, and I have, and even Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart when they were growing up, they did it too. You get put into so many situations, and sometimes you’ll go to the same racetrack two weeks in a row. You might be running 12 second laps one week, then 17 second laps the next week. You’re constantly being put into different situations, which I feel like helps on pavement.
I feel it allows you to go fast right out of the box. And going fast is not an issue when you come from the dirt background. It’s learning how to manage the race. Dirt racing in general is 50 laps at the most, and a late model race might be 100 laps, and that’s the longest race you do. Then you go to the pavement races and they’re 200 laps and that’s the shorter ones. The Cup races might be 500 laps at some places. It’s a totally different mindset, so you have to learn how to manage the distance of the race, that’s probably the hardest part.
SE: You had a wild ride at Daytona and a hard hit at Atlanta, are those some of your worst hits? Or have you had a worse wreck in Sprint Cars?
CB: I’ve come to find out unfortunately that Sprint Car wrecks do hurt a lot worse than stock car crashes. You don’t have all of the energy-absorbing materials all around you in Sprint Cars. In Sprint Cars, you basically have four wheels, a roll cage and you have sheet metal. NASCAR really does their homework. You have a lot more material to absorb the impact, so I feel like the Sprint Car crashes have hurt a lot worse.
Obviously you’re not doing 180, 190mph in a Sprint Car. The G Forces are probably a little bit stronger in the Trucks. Atlanta definitely hurt worse than Daytona, just because of the sudden impact and the stop. Sprint Car racing is definitely way behind NASCAR in their safety development. Hopefully there will be a gate to open up for the Sprint Car guys to look at NASCAR and see what they’re doing, and maybe try to improve the safety on the Sprint Car side.
SE: Exactly what happened towards the end of the Atlanta race between yourself and your teammate? Is there anything you could have done differently?
CB: I have a tendency, that I need to break, and that’s whenever it comes to late race restarts, and I’ve done it numerous times, I just get this mentality that it’s go, go, go, go, go. And in reality, I still had a lot of time left. I pushed a little too hard, and put myself in a bad position where I just got a little aero-tight and had nowhere to go to compensate for it and got into the side of my teammate. If I hadn’t put myself into that position on entry to turn one, I wouldn’t have gotten into him on exit of turn two.
SE: Now that we’ve had two races with it, what is your opinion of the caution clock?
CB: The first race, we didn’t even use it. It put in a lot of drama at Daytona because the situation came up where you could cheat the clock and pit before it. When we went to Atlanta, we used it two or three times. It definitely broke the race up into segments. Whenever we went green, we weren’t racing to the checkered flag; we were racing until the 20-minute mark. As a driver, for me growing up on dirt, I kind of enjoyed that because you knew that there was an end in sight. I felt like it made the race go by a little bit quicker.
SE: How do you or will you prepare for tracks like Las Vegas and Kansas, tracks that you haven’t been to before?
CB: I think that’s another advantage that the Sprint Car guys have. They have seen so many different racetracks; it’s not a big deal to go to a new place and to get adjusted. With my background, and with the resources I have, between Larson, Busch, all of the guys I can talk to, and all of the tools that TRD has, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
SE: How are you going to spend the down time in between Truck Series races this season? How are you going to keep yourself occupied?
CB: Normally, I don’t have that issue because I’m racing every night. It’s definitely been a shocker. Over the last month it’s really sucked, because you race Daytona, Atlanta, back-to-back. It was awesome, but then you’re like, “man I got a month off, what am I going to do?” Thankfully, I’ve got a couple late model races that I’ll be able to fill in the holes. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some Sprint Car racing throughout the year to keep be sharp.
SE: Is it refreshing to have that break, or is it frustrating?
CB: I guess it depends on your week. If you win, it gives you a little bit more time to live the win. If you win a Sprint Car race on Friday night, you’re a winner for 24 hours, or until you go to the next race. After Daytona and Atlanta, I had two bad races there, and you don’t want to go into a break with a down race.
SE: Fill in the blank, in a year from now you will be?
CB: Driving racecars somewhere, some way.
SE: How did the sponsorship with JBL come about?
CB: It’s a really cool relationship just from the fact that as a younger driver, everybody loves music, and it’s cool to be able to represent a company when you enjoy the product. It’s awesome to be able to use their product and to represent them. They do a majority of the speakers in the Toyota cars, the Tundras and the Camrys, all over the United States. I guess it’s the relationship with Toyota for how it came about.
Image: NASCAR Media