Derek Bell - My Racing Life

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by Derek Bell with Alan Henry. 208pp. 10” x 7½”. (Thorsons Publishing Group Ltd, Denington Estate, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire NN8 2RO. £14-95)

Derek Bell, the 1985 and 1986 World Sportscar Champion and five times winner of Le Mans, has contributed to the ever-growing list of racing driver autobiographies. Naturally, endurance racing figures large, but many other strands of the sport are covered, Bell having also raced Lotus and Brabham Formula Three cars and F2 Brabhams and Ferraris before graduating to a works Ferrari Grand Prix drive.

His driving experiences read rather like those in Stirling Moss’ recent book. He writes honestly and crisply about all the vehicles he has enjoyed, which might be said to range from tractors to endure-bikes, and the text is splendidly supported by colour plates and a packed selection of photographs.

The chapter about “Personalities and Problems” is absorbingly outspoken. Pithily intriguing facets of a great many famous people are revealed – the meticulous John Wyer, the casual John Surtees, the relaxed Mike Hallwood, Tom Wheatcroft whose sponsorship ended with a writ. Major Owens offered £5 for a Cooper F1 contract when Bell was expecting at least £10,000; Enzo Ferrari, when asked why he did not give Bell a second chance, replied, “I never warm up cold soup” – which would sound more convincing in Italian…

Another chapter provides a good insight into how Porsche functions – and how the computer-testing he was expected to do once made Bell very angry. Porsche philosophy, we are told, is that “every race has to contribute to the development of a specific component.”

His film-making with Steve McQueen ended in the Ferrari he was driving catching fire and putting him in hospital. Yet he describes this as “one of the most interesting and important spin-offs produced by my motor racing career.”

The book is certainly a reminder of what a lot of racing has happened since the war. Bell covers it all – safety, rules, finance, dieting, his business ventures, his marriage, his house, receiving his MBE – even lawn-mower racing and his drive in the RAC Rally. You get a lot for your money!

I do not like the quotes from the text being repeated on most of the pages, but otherwise this is a splendid book.
WB

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