Heroes? - Derek Bell Column - November 2012

Date: 
29th January 2013

It’s the nature of language that words often lose their potency over time. This is often due as much to misuse as overuse, the word ‘hero’ being a prime example. How many times have you read an article where a racing driver is described as a hero, or a remarkable drive is labelled heroic? Those of us who do this for a living all have tales to tell; that amazing race where we nursed a car home against the odds or the one where we kept it on the island in appalling conditions to claw back a lap and take home the silverware. That sort of thing. By that rationale, we are all heroes.

Except in my mind, the engineers, the free thinkers of our sport, are more deserving of the title. During the course of my career I have been privileged enough to work with the likes of Mauro Forghieri at Ferrari, John Horsman at JWA/Gulf and Norbert Singer at Porsche; really talented individuals who produced the goods time and time again. This was brought home in August when I was welcomed into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. It was a real privilege, not least because my dear friend David Hobbs was the MC for the evening, and also because my son Justin gave a wonderful speech before I was hauled onto the stage. Held in the fabulous – and historic - Filmore Theatre in downtown Detroit, the great and the good of the US motor sport scene were  on hand and I felt greatly humbled to be one of few Brits ever to be inducted as a Hall of Famer. I believe I’m one of only a dozen to be so honoured.

I was asked to prepare a two minute speech which didn’t give me much time to thank all of those who have helped me realise my dreams over almost half a century. A great many of those were engineers and designers. When you stop to think about it, all we do is hop into a car and drive. We’re doing something we love. By the same token, the engineers, the designers and all the guys in the pit garages are also racing because it’s their great passion but the rewards aren’t always so obvious – or so generous. Once on stage, I made what I hope were valid points about many of the other guys being inducted; why they (itals) mattered (end itals). The class of 2012 included the likes of car/motorcycle builder and trendsetter Floyd ‘Pop’ Dreyer, engine-building legend Ed Pink and hot rod pioneer Vic Edelbrock Sr. Their contribution to motor sport is likely incalculable.

Some of the other speeches ran comfortably past the two minute mark – one of them by about half-an-hour – but listening to the many stories of engineering ingenuity and game-changing innovation was genuinely thought-provoking. These guys would come up with ideas and run with them. More often than not, they were doing things that had never been tried before, and as such they had to be prepared as much for failure as success. Also, you had to consider the fact that they didn’t always have much in the way of resources behind them yet whole industries sprang up in their wake. Guys such as Edelbrock were true visionaries; they helped establish the aftermarket performance tuning market as we know it, and that’s before you factor in their influence to racing as a whole. The Pinks and Dreyers of this world may not be household names but without them our sport would look very different.

So for chaps like me who get all the plaudits, there are an awful lot of very talented men and women working behind the scenes who deserve greater recognition. They are my personal heroes. Yet for sheer heroism in the dictionary definition of the word, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the extraordinary folk at Mission Motorsport. Conceived with the aim of aiding in the recovery and rehabilitation of those affected by military operations, this organisation is run by British veterans, serving officers and racing professionals. Mission Motorsport provides respite and rehabilitation for servicemen and women as they seek to return to an active life, and does so within the framework of motor sport.

Indeed, these guys are truly amazing. They put their lives on the line for their country and, in many instances, suffered serious injury and personal tragedies while performing their duties. Yet their collective spirit is inspiring. As you may have read in last month’s issue, the MM team looked after Martin Overington’s 1929 ‘Blower’ Bentley which I raced at the Le Mans Classic meeting in July. These guys have overcome major trauma yet display a great sense of humour and can-do spirit. Also, they know how to work as a team. They understand pressure and are sufficiently strong willed and competitive to thrive in an entirely new environment. I have watched them up close, and am in awe of their achievements. You want heroes? I suggest you visit www.missionmotorsport.org

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