Derek Bell honored with 2017 Simeone Spirit of Competition Award
Derek Bell at Sebring in 2008. Photo by Freewheeling Daredevil.
Derek Bell has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a total of five times, the 24 Hours of Daytona three times, and the World Sportscar Championship twice. He’s been inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), the Motorsport Hall of Fame of America, and the Le Mans 24 Hours Drivers Hall of Fame, and he has been an honoree of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. On November 15, Bell will add one more accolade to his resume when he accepts the Simeone Foundation Auto Museum Spirit of Competition Award at a gala dinner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
His career in motorsports began on the other side of the Armco in the early 1960s, when Bell served as a corner marshal at the Goodwood circuit. By 1964, he was racing a Lotus 7, earning his first victory, on a wet Goodwood track, in March of that year. Next came a rise through the ranks of Formula 3, then Formula 2, where his performance behind the wheel of a Brabham BT23C caught the eye of Enzo Ferrari himself. In 1968, Bell made his Formula 1 debut with the Scuderia at Monza, and between 1968 and 1974 drove in a total of 16 F1 races for various teams.
His forte, however, turned out to be endurance racing, and in 1970 Bell contested his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing a works-entered Ferrari 512 with Ronnie Petersen. Just an hour and a half into the race, Bell narrowly avoided a collision with a privateer Ferrari 512 from the Scuderia Filipenetti stable, but in the process over-revved the car’s engine, prompting his retirement on lap 40. Following the race, Bell worked with Steve McQueen on the filming of Le Mans, narrowly escaping serious injury when his Ferrari burst into flames while staging for a shot.
Bell’s first win on the Circuit de la Sarthe came in 1975, with co-driver Jacky Ickx. The pair would repeat the achievement in 1981 and 1982, and Bell would earn two more victories, driving with Hans-Joachim Stuck and Al Holbert in 1986 and 1987. His 24 Hours of Daytona victories came in 1986 (with Al Holbert and Al Unser Jr.), 1987 (with the same co-drivers plus Chip Robinson), and 1989 (with John Andretti and Bob Wollek).
In 1985 and 1986, Bell captured back-to-back World Sports Car Championships, but his prowess behind the wheel of the Porsche 956 and similar 962 was best demonstrated by his 35 wins (including 16 in the FIA’s World Endurance Championship and 19 in IMSA Camel GT competition) over a seven-year period from the 1980s into the 1990s.
Sometimes the proudest moments come without a victory. In 1995, on Father’s Day, Derek and his son Justin, along with co-driver Andy Wallace, scored a podium finish at Le Mans in a McLaren F1 GTR. Though he never officially retired from racing (and still makes appearances at vintage events), Bell went on to a successful career in broadcasting, offering up an expert’s perspective on Formula 1 for ESPN and Fox Sports.
In addition to Bell’s Spirit of Competition award, Sally DeLorean, widow of John DeLorean, will be presented with the Jane Dusek Award, while Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, will be the evening’s master of ceremonies. The event takes place at the Simeone Foundation Museum, with the festivities kicking off at 6:00 p.m.; for additional information, or to order tickets, visit SimeoneMuseum.org/Events/Spirit-Competition-Award.