Over the Wall with Kathy Bell

 

Above all, Kathy Bell's been a constant, strong support for her son Christopher throughout his life and flourishing career. (Photo Credit: Kathy Bell)

Above all, Kathy Bell’s been a constant, strong support for her son Christopher throughout his life and flourishing career. (Photo Credit: Kathy Bell)

They say that if you’re going to race at Richmond, you’ve gotta have two things.  You need patience and aggression along with having the perfect setup.

Leaning on your crew chief is key but Christopher Bell doesn’t lack confidence or support from his family. He’s the youngest of two older sisters, Shannon Lack and Kathryn Bell-Burton. In fact, his mother, Kathy Bell, not only travels to as many of his races as possible, but she’s also involved with her daughter’s business.

Before I could even get a word out, Kathy shouted into my ear, “Was that a great race win Friday night or what? I was just such a hot mess! I was beyond nervous. He raced so hard at Richmond. I was sitting in the motor home watching the race until near the end! I knew that he was going to win it, and then I just took off. My eyes just followed him all the way around the track, and I just thanked God.”

That’s the kind of spontaneous combustion you get out of an engine, or a mom whose kid just won his second NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

This past weekend during the ToyotaCare 250, Christopher Bell collected his first victory of the season in the Xfinity Series along with his trusted crew chief Jason Ratcliffe and spotter Tony Hirschman.

Undoubtedly, Kathy Bell is proud of her son Christopher's accomplishments as a racer. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Undoubtedly, Kathy Bell is proud of her son Christopher’s accomplishments as a racer. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

“I think they’re both great, but Christopher says he just loves them both,” Bell said. “They’re just awesome! When Christopher was five, I started praying what his destiny would be for him, so I just watch that pan out for him all these years.”

Kathy Bell talked about her other passions in life outside of her three children.

“My very, very favorite things to do are attending ministry meetings,” she observed. “I don’t really have time for any pets because I’m gone for months due to traveling. Either I’m gone visiting my mom or doing revival services for prison ministry.”

From there, Bell and I spoke about her perspective of raising her fast, talented son, be it from his first time driving a passenger car to one of his most harrowing moments in NASCAR.

Melissa Wright: What was Christopher like as a kid?

Kathy Bell: He made it easy. He never cried.

MW: When it came to learning how to drive, did he take Drivers Ed or did someone in the family teach him how drive?

KB: Oh, he took driver’s ed. Even though he’s been racing since he was five! It was kind of funny when he came out with his driving permit and he got behind that wheel. Once that light turned green, all of a sudden, it was, “Son, slow down! This isn’t a race car!”
He said, “Let’s go fast!” That’s all he could say every time.”

MW: Who typically drives to a family function?

"<yoastmark

KB: We have a really close family friend named Will Orr that would take Christopher to events like racing, auctions or racing conventions at an early age. Christopher didn’t want to go off and play with other kids and do normal kid stuff. He wanted to go on watch them water down the dirt track for like two hours before the race. It was crazy. That was Christopher’s idea of family functions.

Orr and the Bell family gave Christopher a starter car, otherwise known as a Junior Sprint. Not knowing what the future would hold for anyone, Orr offers to teach him everything about racing and mechanics at such an early age.

Author’s Notes: Sprint cars do not utilize a transmission. Instead, they have an in or out gearbox and quick change gear differentials for occasional gearing changes. They’re high powered race cars designed primarily for the purpose of running on short oval or circular dirt or paved tracks.

In fact, Orr set up a racetrack at his house for Christopher to practice at the age of 5 1/2 to become a dirt track racer. On their way to his first practice, Kathy told me that Orr patiently waited for Christopher to arrive when he said, “Mommy, I don’t wanna do this! It hurts my tummy.”

Naturally, Bell thought to herself, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got all the stuff waiting!” At that point, she’s slightly panicked and trying to figure out how she’s going to get him inside this $3,800 equipment. If anyone knows Kathy Bell, they know she’s great on keeping her word.

“I tell you what, if you just go get in this car one time, I’ll buy you a Nintendo game!” Bell recalled. “Then he got all excited about it. Right after that, he got out there on that track and immediately hit the wall!”

Young Christopher Bell proudly poses with his first racecar. (Photo Credit: Kathy Bell)

Young Christopher Bell proudly poses with his first racecar. (Photo Credit: Kathy Bell)

Furthermore, as Bell recalled, “He came running to where I was, saying ‘Mommy, mommy! Did you see me crashing? That’s was so cool!’ I said, yes, that was so cool, and off he went. That was it and he never ever questioned me again. It was then that he knew that he was meant to do this.

I think that starter car only lasted maybe three races or so. Then we got him a more competitive car from there on out. Then he just started winning, winning, and winning. That’s when we realized it became a very expensive hobby. We didn’t mind it as long as he loved it.

But, we would find a way and that passion never wavered over any other sport. He wanted to focus only on the racing, so that was pretty amazing. At that point, I just started praying for him that this was his destiny for him. I’ve never looked back and I’ve watched it unfold over the years.  I’ll never forget him telling me years ago, ‘My dream is to break records.’ That’s my Christopher.”

MW: Prior to racing in the NASCAR circuit, how did you help him prepare and transition throughout his youth?

KB: It basically just came naturally. Around here we’re surrounded by local dirt tracks, and we met these guys named Darren Ruston and Mark Lowe with MelMark Pipe and Supply who said, “I’m looking for one guy to be running the next four years.” They had been watching Christopher for a while now. It was a full sponsorship and ride at the age of 14. We were just ecstatic with two brand new Micro Outlaws and a Micro non-wing, new helmet, trailer -you name it!

As a matter of fact, Bell went onto the next season to win 38 races and won the championship racing against those older than him.

At the age of 16, Wade Wisely from Tulsa, OK insisted that Rick Ferkel watch Bell and put him in a car. He ended up racing in the Short Track Nationals in Little Rock for Al and Bobby Davis. Kathy stated he finished second that year, and that thrusted him into the national spotlight.

Bell, who was emotional at this point, praised several people for mentoring her son Christopher throughout his career. She could not thank Janet and Mike Larson enough for simply everything, as well as their son Kyle, who currently races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Recently, Bell met her son’s team owner Joe Gibbs along with Kyle Busch, who helped spot for Bell during his recovery from fractures at Daytona in 2015.

Despite all the weather challenges that Mother Nature has thrown NASCAR’s way this year, where does Bell prefer to watch her son race from?

“Being up top the pit box is best,” she stated. “I love it as you’re just right there and you get to see all that they do it’s the most incredible feeling!

‘He’s just one of those rich boys’ but that’s just one of those things furthest from the truth,” she said.  “Christopher has not only earned his way winning races and championships, he replaced his great friend Kyle Larson after he moved up. Shortly after  Pete Willloughby and Keith Kunz hired Bell to drive one of their midgets it wasn’t long after that when Toyota jumped on board with their TRD Program. “They have literally done everything they said they’d do in racing and more – it’s amazing!”

As a mother, I can only imagine the amount of pride she has for Christopher.  When I asked her about her top three favorite achievements that Christopher has accomplished, she pointed out to his dirt track racing feats.

Of course trying to pinpoint her top three moments of Christopher’s career was incredibly hard for Kathy because a mother is proud everyday. However, she did try to narrow it down to a few.

“The Chili Bowl would be the top,” Bell said. “The Belleville race, that was just a huge achievement, and of course, the Truck Championship.  There’s just so many. But of course, his first win at the World of Outlaw. There’s also a race in Kokomo where Kyle Larson and Christopher were running one and two and there was maybe five to go. Christopher took the high side on the high banks and won that race. After that race, Pete Willoughby came up to me and said, ‘Wow, that was just so amazing watching those two go at it!”

MW: What’s your next move, knowing your son, who led 120 laps at Richmond International Raceway, scored his first win of the season? How do you feel when he’s racing?

KB: I’m a hot mess I can’t even really look I just glance over and I close my eyes. I’m just a wreck! You just never know at any moment anything can happen. My stomach is in knots – I just can’t even tell ya. My friends always tell me to just breathe.

MW: Do you recall what you said to your son when you saw him after his victory?

KB: You did so good, I’m so proud of you! At that point, we were both pretty much just crying. He wanted it so bad it was the neatest race.

MW: Coping with the what if’s during other races when he could’ve finished better, what advice do you give Christopher to ensure him that everything will be all right?

KB: I just give him some time at this point because he’s just very hard on himself. Everything is a learning experience. He is so motivated, that after the end of a race, if he didn’t win, he’s ready to get back in the car and do it again – just to win the race!

MW: During post-race, he wasn’t 100% satisfied with his results, even though he captured the checker. He beat his teammate in fact. Is this part of the patience and aggression?

KB: He’s his own worst critic and is always trying to find a way to improve himself.  I think maybe when he was 12 and we were in Tulsa, he put his helmet down and he said, “They think they can intimidate me when they put that helmet on? They’re just another racer.”

That’s his motto and pretty much when he gets on track, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’re just another racer. Ultimately, you want the win. I thought it was pretty neat he thought that way even as a young kid.”

When I asked her about Talladega this weekend, she responded, “Talladega is a big crapshoot! I am a wreck at that place!”

Seriously?

“Oh my goodness, yes!” Bell said.  “He finished second last year, but he’s been wrecked there.”

Christopher Bell flips about nine times at the conclusion of the season-opening race at Daytona. He was not injured.

“When you watch this, you just will not believe it!” she observed. “My daughter had called me and informed me about it this massive wreck. Keep in mind that that’s my son inside that truck.”

While Kathy Bell stated that she won’t be attending the race, her prayers will be with her son Christopher.

After Kathy Bell had mentioned how she respected and appreciated Christopher’s crew so much; I reached out to his spotter myself. It’s the little things that can make a difference in a parent’s life.

Meanwhile, Tony Hirschman is a well known and respected spotter for Joe Gibbs Racing who also spots for Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. Although he doesn’t know Kathy too well, he said, “Obviously she has done a fabulous job raising a grounded, respectful, and hard-working young man first off. One who happens to be one heck of a racecar driver! Sometimes you don’t even need to know someone, but can’t tell what kind of a person they are by how their kids handled themselves.”

MW: Last weekend you guys collected your first win of the season. Communication with the driver and spotter is how important when you’re leading?

TH: I think it’s really important and a bunch of different ways. One, you can see where everyone else is running, and if the second place guy has found a different line that is enabling him to make up ground, I pass that along and see if that helps us find some more speed; if not sometimes just take their line away hurts them aero wise and slows them down a bit as well, or at least forces them to change up what they been doing. Second, just try to let him know where lap cars have been running, So hopefully there is no guessing where they will be when we get there, and can pass them with minimal time loss.

MW: How did it feel to lead Christopher Bell to his first victory of the season at Richmond this past weekend from up top the roof?

TH: It was nice to finally break through this year and get our first one.  We’ve been really close a bunch of times and had really fast cars. I was really impressed with Bell and how he managed that long last run. He was was really disciplined about taking care of his tires, making them last, running the last line that would pay off later in the run – which is something we talked about earlier in the race. He had enough in the bank at the end to get it done. I was really happy for him, and everyone on the team to get rewarded for all their hard work so far this year. Hopefully the first of many more to come!

This weekend, Bell is eligible for the Dash for Cash.  Presently, he is ranked second in the Xfinity Series points standings with a win, three poles, five top-fives and two DNFs.

Follow the Bell Family on Twitter: @kbell4409 and @CBellRacing.

I’d like to personally thank Kathy Bell and Anthony Hirschman III for their time, not only on the phone, but always on pit road. I appreciate you both for taking the time to do this interview with me! See you on down the road.

Melissa Wright

My column focuses on the unsung heroes in motor sports. I’m an avid sports lover, bow hunter, and a humanitarian that has the effective ability to help communities that have been hit by a natural or man made disaster. Paying it forward as a Disaster Responder with the American Red Cross is the most important action of kindness, and gratitude that I can give to others. Lover of coffee, the beach and LivePD.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *