Featured: Derek Bell on Steve McQueen, Enzo Ferrari, and How He Won Le Mans 5 Times

Derek Bell on Steve McQueen, Enzo Ferrari, and How He Won Le Mans 5 Times

Ted Gushue By Ted Gushue
March 15, 2016
17 comments

Hans Stuck, undisputedly one of the best drivers of all time, refers to as hands down one of, “the most-liked drivers of his generation.” It’s not hard to see why—spend 5 minutes chatting with the man and you’ll be drawn straight into his wiley, beaming grin and larger-than-life yarns.

Most people—when they tell the types of stories that Derek’s shared with us—would have to be lying, or at the very least embellishing. With Derek, you get the sense that actually he’s had to tone everything down a bit just to make it believable. The man’s won Le Mans outright five times. He raced for Enzo Ferrari in multiple classes and disciplines. He competed in 24 hour races well into his late ’60s. The man, in every sense of the word, is a living legend. It’s a great honor that we’re able to present this in-depth conversation with him.

Ted Gushue: What is the first car that you remember driving?

Derek Bell: My first car was really a farm tractor and a Willys Jeep when I was nine years old, on the family farm. And then, of course, my dear old stepfather had various pretty good cars. I remember he had an Austin A90 Atlantic, which you might not have heard of, but would be worth an arm and a leg today. It was quite popular in England at the time.

I remember he had an XK150 Jaguar, and I remember in 1959 we drove down to the Italian Grand Prix, and he let me drive it after lunch [laughs] because he always used to like to have a bit of cognac after his meal. And so I drove it till I got up to about 120 miles per hour and suddenly his hand came out and whacked me on the knee saying, “that’s enough,” but before that, I just tried to drive anything that had wheels on it on the farm. Mainly tractors, trucks and the odd Jeep that we had. The first real car would have been the XK150 or the Atlantic.

TG: What do you remember about the feeling of driving as a young man? Did you feel a preternatural urge to drive?

DB: Well, in those days, we had 30 guys working on the farm, we must have had 600 acres, and up until 16 I just drove anything of theirs that I could get my hands on. And then of course I wanted to drive more and more. All I wanted to do was drive, didn’t want to slump around pulling up sugarbeets. I’d built a reputation as being a reliable driver around the farm, never had any cockups, didn’t screw anything up, damage anything, so they really gave me my lead to drive whatever I wanted of theirs. Obviously, I was driving things with a purpose though. Nobody said, “Just go off and drive a tractor for three hours,” it was work around the farm. They’d say, “go plow a field,” you know. Machinery was in my blood, really. I loved anything big or powerful.

I used to wait for the workers to go to lunch and I’d ask if I could carry on with the big machines while they ate. Cutting the wheat with a big New Holland combine, or what have you.

TG: Isn’t it funny how many people got their start on farm equipment? The first vehicle I ever drove was my Grandfather’s Tractor. Perhaps it’s something to do with the time period where your peer group came of driving age, when we were on the whole a more agricultural society?

DB: Very well could be.

TG: What was it like to transition from illicitly driving a car like the XK150 to a car that was purpose-built to drive fast?

DB: Well you’ve gotta realize that when I drove the 150 on the way through Italy to the Italian Grand Prix in ’59 not only did I realize how important racing was, but I also learned how to eat pasta. I wasn’t eating the spaghetti too well, I remember this guy came across to me on Lake Como at the restaurant and stopped me from what I was doing and said, “Please, please let me help you—you’re having a terrible time”.

So I remember that almost before anything else, and then when we got to the race track, I remember the first race of the weekend was a sports car race. And of course out came this beautiful bright red Ferrari California Spider, and after that I was a Ferrari freak, really. I watched this guy drive around this gorgeous Ferrari immaculately, with great poise, and I have no idea how fast it was, but it just looked beautiful, and I thought, “One day, I’m going to own a Ferrari.” Little knowing, that was 1959, that within nine years I would be racing for Ferrari, in the very same race. That still amazes me to this day.

I actually remember not thinking about that day nine years later when I was racing at the Italian Grand Prix, which is strange, really. How weird is that? Of course, I would end up reflecting on it many years later. That transition to driving something special was inevitable. I was at college studying agriculture when I went to Monza in ’59 with my stepfather. From that I ended up going to the Jim Russell driving school because it was the only way I could get my bum in a racecar.

TG: Was there pressure from your stepfather to pursue driving as a career?

DB: No, no, no—nothing at all. He didn’t help me in any way whatsoever in the beginning. I went through the driving course over a period of 18 months. I lived 180 miles from there, and I didn’t really have a road car worth speaking about, not like today when you get a car when you’re 16 or 17. I had an old banger that probably wouldn’t have made it as far as the racing school. I remember having to borrow a car from somebody just to get there. I didn’t really rush through the school, unlike today how you pay $3-4000 and get it over with in 4 days.

In those days you went and it cost you £10 a corner, walking and then driving.

TG: Were driving schools ever like auditions for race teams?

DB: No, not at all. It was really pathetic. I mean Jim Russell was the only driving school in the world at the time that I’m aware of. I mean Bob Bondurant had only just started racing at that time probably. There were no other schools in the world. Jim brought his company over, as you know to Laguna Seca, where I think it still is. I mean, I was there as one of the early people with Emerson Fittipaldi, he went there as well. Emerson and I were two of the only ones from that era that got on and did pretty well post-Jim Russell. It was really the only way to get your bum in a car, to go to drivers school, and pay the money.

Towards the end of the course ,Jim came up to us after a particularly clean run and Jim said, “Who was in that car there?” So I go, “Oh shit! That was me!” So I told him I was, and he took me in front of the other guys and he went on that he thought I had talent and all that. He went rambling on, which I’ve never heard him do before. And eventually he said, “You’ve got a lot to learn, but actually there’s no point in you staying at the school anymore. I can’t do anything for you anymore. You actually have to get out and race”. And he told me that he guaranteed that within a year if I pursued it I would be at a factory team.

So I drove back down to Sussex that night, 180 miles from the school, and my old man was sitting in the lounge reading his paper, asks me how I got on that day. “Pretty good, Uncle Bernard [Derek’s nickname for his Stepfather], have to tell you what Jim Russell said”. Told him about the day and he came back and said, “Tell you what, you prove that you’ve got the ability to do this and I’ll help you”. Picked his paper back up and carried on reading.

So I kept on running the business of the farm, and one day a guy came to sell me some machinery, something like a year later. I was 22, 23 by now, and we talked about what we’d done in our lives, and we’d both come to the conclusion that what we’d really like to be doing is racing. So he and I actually built a little Lotus 7, a picture of which I’m looking at now, and we built this terrible horrible track in one of the yards on our farm. I won my first race on March the 16th, 1964 at an average speed of 66.48 miles an hour. I still have the little alarm clock I won as a prize.

TG: And that win was at Goodwood, correct?

DB: Yes, Goodwood in the pissing rain. Of course it’s only 5 miles away from me. My partner in the car went off and got married in 1965, so my old man came and helped me. It became quite apparent that I might have a future in this, so we entered into secondary class Formula 3 and I won my first race in that, and then I went up to Formula 3 proper, and I won my first race in that, making me the most successful British Driver in Europe at the time. Two years later at that point and I’m on the phone with Ferrari.

TG: What drew Enzo Ferrari to you?

DB: [laughs] I wish I could tell you! I’ve always wondered about that. When I actually reflect on that year I don’t know what it was. Maybe because I was British? I had won a lot in Formula 3, maybe that ticked a few boxes for him? At the same time as Enzo I had John Cooper on the phone to drive for his Formula 1 team, I had Colin Chapman when I went to Silverstone with Formula 2, if you’ll remember Jimmy Clark had died, and I was in the race when Jimmy had died at Hockenheimring, which was my first bigtime international race, so Colin Chapman looked up at me from the pits and says, “You’re going well this year, why don’t you come to Nürburgring and test out the STP Turbine Car for Indianapolis”.

Mr. Chapman made me borrow his Jaguar to prove that I could drive an automatic transmission, so I ran it up and down the runway twice before rushing back so that he wouldn’t have another chance to let someone else drive for him. Went back, told him, “OK Mr. Chapman, I can drive an automatic car!” Truthfully, I didn’t have a clue. So we fast forward to the ’Ring, we’re there with two turbine cars. Graham Hill is in one, they send him round the track and I’m not allowed to go ’til he returns because if you crashed and they didn’t hear you they wouldn’t know to come rescue you. So Graham goes and destroys the transmission in his car, comes ’round and I have to give up my seat so he can finish the testing. Never even got to drive the bloody thing. Six weeks later, Mike Spence dies in the very same car at Indianapolis. Absolutely awful.

At the same time, I had an offer from John Wyer to come and drive the GT40 at Le Mans that year. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I mean when you look back at it as your racing history so to speak I was very in demand, very quickly, for a very short space of time.

TG: Once you signed with Ferrari, did you ever get a chance to spend time with Enzo?

DB: Oh yeah. I’ve got some wonderful pictures with him actually, but I had a lot of time with him. You know it’s funny, drivers don’t talk about things like that with each other, obviously with Chris Amon and Jackie Ickx I did because we were there at the same time, but we took it as part of the show that Mr. Ferrari would be around sometimes.

I remember every morning once I got to Ferrari he would invite me to his office at 9 o’clock sharp, you’d be summoned into his office. At that point I remember my wife was in hospital in England, and the first thing he’d ask would be “How’s your wife today?” and of course it was still 8 o’clock back in England and I hadn’t heard yet so I’d say, “I’m not sure, sir, as it’s still early there”. He’d say, “Let’s phone her up!” and he’d get his secretary to call her nurses to see how she was, right in front of me while we had our morning meeting.

To me, Enzo was an amazing man. I mean, they used to phone me up and just say, “Tonight you will have dinner with Il Commandatore.” And that was it, you’d have to go out with the old man for dinner. So he’d pick me up at the hotel in his 2+2, and we’d go off to dinner somewhere, 50-60-70 miles away. And we’d take off, flying down the road, driving like a madman with his, what you call ‘suspenders’ but I call ‘braces’ on, and his tie. I used to just walk into restaurants with him maybe half a dozen or eight times, and each time it was just amazing.

Finally after the Italian Grand Prix that first year, if you got summoned to Enzo’s house after the race, Grand Prix races used to be on a Saturday back then, and they said, “If you get summoned to Enzo’s house on the Sunday that meant that you had a contract for that year.” Lo and behold, Chris Eamon and I were summoned to Rimini where he had a house near the beach, a really grim bloody house, nothing special in those days, anyway. Chris and I went there, had a nice lunch cooked by his wife, we chatted, that was it and we knew we had a contract for that year.

TG: Mario Andretti described his relationship with Mr. Ferrari as borderline paternal, in the sense that you wanted to do everything possible to get him to smile, and the easiest way to get him to smile was to win. Did you feel something similar?

DB: Unfortunately, I never saw him when I won, as he was never there on the races I won. Mario was obviously in and out of the factory, not to mention of Italian descent, so I think they spent much more time together, whereas I lived in England. So for instance if I raced at Spa, I’d go back to England afterwards, not to the factory. And I wouldn’t go back ’til they summoned me for testing. But whenever I was there I enjoyed his company immensely. I can see what Mario meant, I would have loved to had been successful with him. It would have been lovely to win something really big, but the car never was never really good enough in my time there.

TG: What came next for you after Ferrari?

DB: Well, in the middle of this I’d been asked to race the GT40 and Ferrari just wouldn’t release me. I was actually unaware of all the excitement of Ford attempting to buy Ferrari, and all that, so when I’d had a test run in a brand new GT40 at a place called Thruxton here in England I contacted Ferrari asking very politely to be released from my contract to be able to drive the GT40, to drive at Le Mans all I got was a Telex message from Enzo’s office saying: “You will honor your contract. – Ferrari”

So I got the message—to which John Wyer said, “You realize that Ferrari are going to ruin your career.”

I was such a dumbass about the whole thing, I didn’t have a manager or anything. Today, people have staff wiping their asses for them and god knows what else, and I just went and did what I did. I’m such a dickhead when it comes to business anyway, still am come to think of it. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done, even if I’ve done it wrong anyway. In those days you made your own bed and you had to lie in it, really.

When I think about what happened subsequently it wasn’t the best move I’d made at that time, driving for Ferrari and then driving for McLaren in that one off four-wheel drive car, which Enzo released me to drive in the British Grand Prix, and then from that Mr. Ferrari got me back in the factory team to do Le Mans in 1970, which I drove with Ronnie Peterson. All from that I found myself leading the European Formula 2 championship, and also having a contract to drive in Porsche to drive in the 917 the next year.

I must have done something right along the way, but I wasn’t walking around like a big dopehead that knew what he was doing either. I’ve never really been happy with my performance, I remember qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix next to Jackie Stewart on the number 3 slot, and not being happy. If I had really thought about it, to be at my first Grand Prix, in 1968, in Italy, in a Ferrari, next to Jackie Stewart, it’s really not too shabby. But I never felt that, I always thought I should have been 2/10ths of a second quicker.

TG: Around this time you were also approached by Solar Productions to work on Steve McQueen’s ‘Le Mans’.

DB: Yeah, in ’70, absolutely. Basically, what happened was that I was driving Jacques Swaters Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari at Spa, and I did pretty well, and although I was in a private car I did pretty well against the factory cars. I’d never been to Spa before, actually I’d never driven a sports car like that before, so Enzo says, “I’ll have him for my sports car team.” I was supposed to drive with Ronnie Peterson, who was a fantastic driver, actually we both tested for Porsche at the end of that year.

While I was at Le Mans with Ronnie Peterson, Jacques Swater says to me that Steve McQueen’s making a film about the race and they’d like to use my car to shoot in the turns, or the tournage as they called it. So he asks me to drive the car in the film and look after it for him, to which I said sure, so obviously I was then employed by Solar Productions and I stayed at Le Mans from about a week after the race, right the way through ’til October, 4 months I suppose.

This actually enabled me to keep racing Formula 2, which is why I’ve got a great picture of Steve McQueen in my Formula 2 Brabham, which we used to test together at the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans in between races, because I was leading the European Championships Series in Formula 2.

TG: What was the experience of shooting the movie like? To be part of a multi-million dollar movie production around your sport must have been tremendous. Weren’t you living full time with Mr. McQueen and his family?

DB: We did indeed rent a house together. The production was a bit of a nightmare, as we weren’t shooting while the course was set up, this was a few months after so they had to close parts of the track, which are regular roads around the town of Le Mans at odd intervals to shoot certain scenes.

It was a great experience, but you have to remember I’d really never done a film, never been involved in a movie in my life, and suddenly to me, you know, God, I was so green. I was 29 years old or whatever, and I was a kid from a farm in England. I suppose at the time I thought I was quite sophisticated, or alert, but I realized on reflection that I still had the oat straw coming out of my ear holes. But I took it in my stride, I don’t think I appeared that way, but certainly on reflection I knew nothing. So I went there, my mouth was wide open, I’m walking around with Steve McQueen, girls staring at him, which made my mouth fall open even more.

Steve and I ended up becoming really good friends, to the degree that I met up with him in Hollywood, we went out with Allie McGraw and everything right after he’d just been married, I had a hell of a relationship with him. If you see his book or my book, it’s full of pictures of each other. Anyway, that’s by the by. You have to remember that I was essentially unknown at that point. I might have done a few races with Ferrari, but I wasn’t known the way I was 10-15 years later. But the movie was a very special thing to be involved in, I have to say. It provided me with a nice income at the time, aside from that I was only getting a few bob as a farmer. My old man let me keep my farm management salary while I raced, he was quite good like that. With Ferrari we got a pittance when I went there I was an unknown driver—when Andretti went there, for instance, he was already at the top of his field so he could demand big money.

I was a total unknown, so when they offered me £500 for a Grand Prix or £250 for a Formula 2 race I just said, “Gee! Wow! That’s it! I’ll take it!” but you couldn’t really live off it because you didn’t do enough races.

TG: Now during this whole time you were married, correct?

DB: Yes, was married in ’68.

TG: Now, had you not been married during the filming of Le Mans, would your experience have been quite different while you were palling around with Steve McQueen?

DB: Well, Steve had his two kids and his wife there, I never knew that he was out running around with other women. To be completely honest, they weren’t that special. There weren’t really any stunning women on the movie, it was quite weird.

TG: It is quite curious to hear you describe essentially an average buddy buddy relationship. In a way that so many fans of Steve McQueen would imagine a few weeks living with the man would be this debaucherous thrill ride, but in reality, it sounds quite tame as though you were focused on the project at hand.

DB: Absolutely! [laughs] That’s what it was. You know, we had to be on the set virtually every day at 8 o’clock in the morning, we would view the previous day’s rushes, and we would be told what we would be filming dependent on the weather. You might not see Steve ’til nine, but there were a hell of a cast of us involved. And that’s how it was. They used to take me and Richard Atwood, and they’d invite us into meetings and they’d show us what they’d like to be part of that day, and we would advise them on best how to do it.

They really didn’t know how one would act, you know, as a racing driver. The actors damn well didn’t know, Steve didn’t really know, and we knew, which is why we were there as experts.

For example, they’d ask us what you would go and do after you get out of the car after your leg of the race, “Would you just sit in the pit lane?” I said to them, “Like hell you would! You’re sweating your nuts off, you’re dying for a drink, you’re dying to change your soaking wet flameproof underwear and overwear, so you’d go out the back of the pit, debrief with the chief mechanic, go over any problems, and then you’d go off and have a shower, and then grab something to eat.”

They were using us really to write the script for them…because they had no bloody script. They went through about 13 script writers and ended up not using any of it in the end, they just kept filming.

TG: Do you feel it’s an accurate representation, all said and done?

DB: Oh yeah. Although when I saw the film, maybe about a year later I wasn’t that thrilled about it. We just couldn’t see how it could be a good movie because there’s no story. How can you have a story about a 24 hour race? How can you make that human? I mean, you can’t. They assumed during racing downtime we would jump out the car, run to town, go shopping, have a night out or what not and then jump back in the car again. In reality, we get out the car, walk straight to the motorhome, stop off at the little catering tent or wherever to have something to eat, probably a horrible sandwich or a boiled egg or something. We eat like pregnant ladies, craving all sorts of nonsense, in my case I wanted pasta, I wanted yogurts, I wanted boiled eggs and cereal when I got out the car.

Then you’d stumble back to the baby caravan, not the bloody great luxury motorhomes you have now, remember there were two of us in the 24 hr race during those days, going substantially faster in the straights, so at the time of the McQueen movie the reality of what a driver did between legs was just so boring.

TG: How was Steve as a driver?

DB: He was very very good actually. The problem was that I didn’t know how good I was. I knew how good Jo Siffert was, because he was on the movie with us a lot, and I became his teammate in the Gulf Porsche the following year, but he drove in the Gulf Porsche in the year of the movie, and so during the filming of the thing he and Steve would drive the Porsches, and I would drive the Ferrari of an actor. And Jo would drive against Steve and me, or he would drive Steve’s car if the stuff became really tricky, but generally speaking Steve did his own driving.

And he drove bloody quickly.

I had him scared a couple of times, cause I took a corner flat out after about 4 takes at a lower speed. I just went flat out, and he followed right behind me, and was so upset that I went through flat, and when he got to the end of the Tournage he lept out the car and his face was white as a sheet.

John Sturges turns to Steve and says, “What the hell is up with you?”

Steve Says: “The bloody lunatics just took me through the corner flat out!” So I told Steve he really didn’t have to do that, you know, he could have backed off. But of course he didn’t, because he was Steve McQueen.

TG: That’s quite a well known legend, isn’t it? Did he ever get you back for it?

DB: Yes he did. He did get me back, absolutely. There were so many moments like that, humorous moments where we were pushing each other. He made it fun, because he was the hero, the boss. He had to.

I remember he took me out on the motocross bikes and made me land on this bloody great rubbish dump, but it was fun. I remember he just stood there and laughed like an idiot.

Everybody got on well on that set. It didn’t feel like we were making a movie.

TG: Back to your sports car racing experience. That 1970 season with Ronnie Peterson, in the 512 Ferrari. What do you remember of that car?

DB: Well obviously for me it was a wonderful experience, but when you reflect back it was bloody ridiculous. Why I didn’t crash, or why one of us didn’t go off the road, I just have no idea how we did it. It was my first time driving a Ferrari sports car like that. I’d started off at Spa, a course I’d never driven before. Totally ridiculous.

It was an ordeal, but I didn’t know it any different. That was the point, Ted. At that point in my career I’d never been in a sports car. As far as I was concerned, it was just wonderful. It sounded wonderful, it drove wonderfully, it was heavy, nothing like a single seater, which really was the biggest difference to me.

The 512 though, compared to the 917, was like driving a truck.

TG: What changed in you, and what changed in motorsport between your first Le Mans in 1970 and your win in 1975 with Jackie Ickx?

DB: It’s a good question, that. Remember I hadn’t been that many years at this point, maybe eight or nine years by the time I drove with Jacky. But I did the 917 while I was doing Formula 1 races. Had the sixth place in the US Grand Prix with the Surtees car, I was still driving Formula 2, I drove Formula 5000. I was also doing a CanAm races in a big McLaren with 800 horsepower. I was really really versatile, so as those years progressed I was also developing the Mirage GR7 and GR8, which was the Cosworth Formula 1-engined car. I developed that car right from ’71 right up to the day we won with it in ’75.

I did most of the development on those cars, other drivers came and went but I was always the driver that stayed behind with the mechanics. I was bloody lucky to be there, but I suppose I’d earnt it by that point.

TG: How did you define development back then? Was it just tweaking and fiddling?

DB: No, this was massive changes to the architecture of the car. Aerodynamic changes, suspension changes, wheel sizes, it was a bloody nightmare. We’d do long long tests at Paul Ricard. Trying to make the car last, trying to make it fast. Cars didn’t come out of the box quick back then, they came out as a lump of nails and then you had to titulate it and shape it to become a good car.

We went to Kylami in ’74 in South Africa, in November, the end of the end of the racing season. I remember the second night back at the hotel after a bloody long day of testing the people who had been sitting at our hotel a few miles away from the track said: “What’s Blue and Orange and goes round and round and round?” And of course it was my bloody Gulf Mirage. Testing this, testing that, back to back on tires, different wings.

TG: What about the human element of building a Le Mans winning team? How does that factor into the car’s development?

DB: As John Wyer says, it takes three years to build a Le Mans-winning team. The first year to finish the race. The second year to finish in the top 10, and the third year to hopefully win it. There’s not many occasions that rule has been broken. Throughout that process all of your teammates are doing pretty much equal amounts of work so you’re deeply bonded through it.

With that Gulf Mirage you also have to consider that we’re running an engine that’s built for a two hour Grand Prix, not a 24 hour race. When John Wyer went to speak with Keith Duckworth at Cosworth engineering, he said “Hey Keith, we’re gonna go to Le Mans with the Cosworth Engine, what do you suggest?” and Keith says—mind you this is the head of the Cosworth company—“I wouldn’t bloody go if I was you.” We ended up having to run the engine at moderately low revs, because there was an amazing vibration that we couldn’t handle. You couldn’t have 8,000 RPM down the Mulsanne straight because it would just rattle the car apart, but you needed the top speed, so we had to get very creative with gearing.

TG: What Was Jacky Ickx like to drive with?

DB: Absolutely amazing. He was one of the drivers that I always had so much envy and respect for, and still do. He was one of the greatest drivers that you could ever hope to be with. I loved his temperament, his attention to detail, everybody loved him—no, that’s not right—everybody respected him. Teams respected him because had this astonishing ability. How the hell he never became Formula 1 World Champion, I’ll never know. Wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose. In sports cars and in touring cars, he was just outstanding, and in Formula 2 and Formula 1, just outstanding, and he was just so young! Two or three years younger than me, you know.

John Wyer always had the greatest respect for Jacky too. He’d driven the GT40s with him. Wyer always had respect for winners. Jacky actually went through John Wyer and asked to be put in touch with me to race Le Mans, because he thought we could win together. I was very flattered that he felt I should drive with him. The ironic thing was of course in ’81, Porsche contacted me and asked me to drive for the factory team that they’d already had set up, so I figured I’d be paired in the th or 4th car with some driver I hadn’t worked with before. The head of Porsche Engineering, Manfred, he said to me: “Now I’ve got the two best drivers in the world, you and Jacky Ickx. You’ll be driving together.” And of course we went out and won.

I’ve always had that wonderful respect for Jacky.

TG: Were there ever drivers that you didn’t want to work with?

DB: There were a few, but only because you didn’t think that they could win. I remember in ’83, Jacky said to me, “I think it’s time we have a 3rd driver in the car,” you know, because the cars were getting so fast in the corners, the 962 was getting so much grip, so much speed, it was just impossible. It was too physical, the G-forces alone were immense by that point with ground effect and everything, and Jacky asked me to suggest a 3rd driver.

I remember almost being disappointed because Jacky and I were so good together that I couldn’t see adding anybody else to that mix that could improve the equation. It crossed my mind to use Hans-Joachim Stuck, who I knew very well, but Stucky by that point hadn’t driven the big 962s, and he hadn’t always been good at keeping cars on the road, and I just didn’t need that dynamic. Jacky and I never went off the road over thousands of miles.

TG: Do you have any celebratory rituals after a big win?

DB: Not really, it’s bloody difficult to stay awake to be honest. It’s very different now with three drivers and air conditioned helmets, and not having to hammer a clutch, shift gears, so on. They don’t seem nearly as tired as we used to at the end of a race. I had to be taken out on two occasions and put on a mineral IV drip. Literally the tips of my fingers had gone white, blood was stopping circulation because I was so drained. That’s not because I wasn’t fit, never drank much at all, played rugby for my city, was always in shape, but the bloody cars were so physical. We didn’t even have mineral drinks till well into the ’80s.

TG: What would be your most memorable win?

DB: In a way, my most memorable win was winning in Formula 2 in Barcelona. I beat everybody who was anybody in Formula 2, which was similar to Formula 1. I got pole position, lead it from start to finish, and won with Emerson Fittipaldi second and François Cevert third. For a young kid on the way up, that was like winning the Superbowl. To do that, on your own, without teammates, driving the bloody car from the drop of a flag to the drop of a flag, that always stuck with me as my greatest race.

All of my races with Jacky and Stuck were amazing. Mulsanne at 245 miles an hour, they were amazing.

TG: What was it like to race with your son at Le Mans in ’94?

DB: That’s the most memorable race. Leading for 16 hours with your son and Andy Wallace, in those conditions, none of us really hit anything, everybody in the bloody race spun at some point because of the rain. We finished 3rd, on Father’s Day. That was pretty special.

TG: What’s in your garage right now?

DB: Well, I’m really liking the Bentley Continental GT V8S. The W12 is so beautiful to drive, and smooth and seamless, but I’m really enjoying the V8S because it’s more fun to drive. Have been involved with the new Bentayga SUV for the last eight months as well.

TG: Anything vintage?

DB: Well, I’ve got the Porsche 924 Carrera GTS, which is one of 25 they built for racing in 1979 and 1980. There’s not many out there, it’s very much like the GTR that I drove with Al Holbert. That’s how I got to know Al Holbert. Which lead to the incredible relationship with the Lowenbrau Porsche. His team, and the way he organized it, was second to none. He was probably, without a doubt, the best all-around driver I ever drove with. He was an amazing engineer, a great test driver, a fabulous driver, and he ran the team so efficiently. We had a wonderful team of guys.

I’ve also got a 550 Maranello, which I bought because of that day in 1959 when I saw the Grand Prix at Monza. I had a 275 GTB which I sold to pay for my kid’s education, back in ’72. I don’t regret paying for their education…but I do regret selling that car.

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Neil Tusing
Neil Tusing

DB was honored by the Simeone Museum, Philadelphia, PA this past November 15th when he received the museum’s annual Spirit of Competition award. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. I was told by one attendee that DB was particularly fond of and impressed by the museum’s 1975 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 TT 12,

wing nut
wing nut

Sorry Ted, took me too long to get to your article with DB. It was a great read and full of insightful memories that few will have known of. I’ve met Mr. Bell at Amelia Island a number of times and always enjoy seeing him speak with fans which includes me. A real down to earth hero in my opinion.

Sbeauchier
Sbeauchier

Great Interview with one of the sports car legends. If you can get one with Jacky Ickx as well that would be amazing too.

Sandy Ganz
Sandy Ganz

What a great interview! Interesting and enjoyable to read!

Max Zabramny
Max Zabramny

As always, a great interview. My one thought is that given how rich this content is, it would be wonderful to see this in video format. The same goes for the Singer and Magnus Walker pieces you guys did. Given how wonderfully rich your video content always appears, I can imagine this interview being amazing with intercuts of some of this photography.

agavespirit
agavespirit

Wonderful interview! Highlights the vast differences in the foundations of racing then versus now. Pretty sure the talent is similar but the support systems have certainly changed.

Greg737
Greg737

Anybody know why there’s a picture of Francoise Hardy in this article?

Francois Bozonnet
Francois Bozonnet

what an article, even if my english level is not so good. as we say here in France: “BRAVO”…

Shayan Bokaie
Shayan Bokaie

True legend, great work Ted.

De Dion
De Dion

What a guy. One of my heroes. Endurance drivers are just a different breed from the sprint drivers. Much like rally drivers of the past.

By the way it’s Ronnie Peterson, not Petersen

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview. DB was one of my heroes in motorsport, for sure. I was a young teen watching him with Holbert, Ickx, Stuck, at the same time as Bellof, Ludwig, Wallace and many, many more. Those were without any doubt my most impressionable years as a petrolhead, and I would find a way to watch these races and none of my friends would have any idea what I was talking about, because there was no coverage and it certainly wasn’t fashionable at the time. Those were the days and the cars… Thanks again. That was… Read more »

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Steve McQueen was a good driver wh was an actor . Paul Newman was much better [ actor and a superior driver ] As for DB ? He’s a legend . Of that there is no doubt . As for his current garage though ? Sorry Mr Bell ..I get it that the BORG [ VW-Audi ] now sponsors you/pays your way … but a pair of over priced Audi A8’s with a Bentley party dress on ? [ not to mention a severely overpriced Toureg/Q5/Cayenne wearing a set of Bentley fatigues ] My how one’s standards fall once one… Read more »

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Apologies … Q5 should of read Q7 … one more coffee is obviously in order

john merritt
john merritt

You’re an asshole. “DB” is a stand up guy. You, however, should go play in traffic.

B Bop
B Bop

I concur with Mr Merritts comment. Great article and thanks for the pic of Francois Hardy … stunning ! As I have mentioned before, any musician/guitarist who calls themselves Guitar Slinger, is like a sleazy obnoxious guy who thinks that he’s a ladies man, calling himself Mr Handsome

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