By: Ashley McCubbin
Although he’s made himself known as a NASCAR competitor with success across the top-three series, Christopher Bell has proven he can get it done in dirt racing just as well.
He will be chasing a fourth career Chili Bowl victory this week, and spoke about the coveted dirt event with POPULAR SPEED late last week.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into the Chili Bowl?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: The Chili Bowl is a race that I’m always really excited for every year. It’s kind of the biggest event that I went going to as a kid in Oklohoma, it’s my local race so to speak, and you get a lot of different drivers from disciplines going, too. So it’s a fun one. It’s means a lot and I’ve been fortunate to win it before. It’s a difficult race to win with how many drivers show up and the way the format works. So everything has to line up in order to have success, but that’s what makes it so fun.
ASHLEY: What makes the Chili Bowl a must-attend, must-run event every year? It seems each year the car count continues to climb. What’s the allure if you will?
CHRISTOPHER: I think from a fan standpoint, the attraction is the diverse group of guys that compete it. I think this year we have guys from NASCAR, and not just this year but every year. You got guys from NASCAR, IndyCar, Sprint Car drivers, Midget drivers, and Dirt Late Model drivers, and it’s really the only event that you get this diverse group of a drivers to compete in one event.
It’s a lot of fun and it’s a happy place. Everybody has a great time whenever you go there. Obviously, this year will be different with the pandemic so there won’t be as many fans there, so that’ll hurt a little bit, but the on-track action will be just as good.
ASHLEY: You’ve had the chance to win the event on three occasions. What has been your most memorable Chili Bowl moment?
CHRISTOPHER: I would say it would have between #1 and #3, winning the race anyway. The first race was really special because I’d tried so long to win that event and to break through and be the first Oklahoma driver in 15 or 20 years was really special. Even before that, I think it was the year before that, I was leading the event and a lap car blew up in front of me and took me out of it, and that was very disappointing and one of the lowest parts of my Chili Bowl career. I’ve experienced the highs and the lows inside that building.
ASHLEY: There’s a bunch of first-timers on the entry list. What would be one piece of advice you’d have them?
CHRISTOPHER: I’d say just take it race by race; it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. Everybody is nervous before your prelim night; I am even nervous as I get more nervous than other events that we go to. Everybody gets nervous so you just have to take it one race at a time. In order to be in the main event on Saturday, it starts with your heat race. You don’t have to set the world on fire in your heat race, but you just have to not eliminate yourself.
But if you can get through your heat race and have a solid run and then go to your qualifier, once again not eliminating yourself – no mistakes, and taking it race by race is my biggest piece of advice.
ASHLEY: Sprint cars, midgets – it seems on dirt that you run it all. But if you had to choose between the pair to be only allowed to run one type of car the rest of your life, what would it be?
CHRISTOPHER: That would be difficult. I would have to say – I don’t know. Obviously, right now I have midget fever going into the Chili Bowl so I’d tell you midgets. But in the summer time, there’s a lot more sprint car racing going on than midget racing. It’d be extremely difficult to just pick one, but right now since we’re going to the Chili Bowl, I’d have to tell yoy midgets.
ASHLEY: Flip side in the Cup Series, you make the move over to JGR in 2021. What are your thoughts entering the season?
CHRISTOPHER: I’m just really thankful for the opportunity to move to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive for Coach. I spent time there in the Xfinity Series and got to know the process, and the way they go about racing in NASCAR, and just very thankful for the opportunity. I can’t wait to make the most of it. It’s a huge opportunity for me, so I’m excited to go out there and do my best and hopefully embed myself at Joe Gibbs Racing and finish out my career here.
ASHLEY: What’s the biggest thing you learned your rookie campaign that you feel will help you this upcoming season?
CHRISTOPHER: I would say the single biggest thing I learned is getting to the end of these races. There’s so many races where you take the green flag – and especially now with no practice going into these races, and your car may not be driving right and you may be struggling, but there’s so many different things that happen throughout the course of 400 or 500 mile event that it’s going to change by the end of it. Just make sure you get to the end of the race and don’t eliminate yourself by crashing out early.
ASHLEY: Cup Series getting the chance to run a dirt event at Bristol. It’s got to have you excited….
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, that’s going to be something different than we’ve ever done so it should give me an advantage, but there’s no telling what the track conditions are going to be. So I think it’s going to still be a difficult race. I don’t think it’ll be a typical dirt race like we’re used to seeing, so I think it’ll definitely be a wild card and a toss-up for sure.
ASHLEY: Outside of Bristol, what track are you most looking forward to?
CHRISTOPHER: I mean, I really enjoyed all of the road courses last year; they were some of my better races. I am hoping maybe we get some rain at some of the road courses as I enjoyed doing that at Charlotte. The wet race track – that was cool. Bristol is always a great one for me. There’s a handful of tracks; it’s not like I can just circle one. I had good runs at places I didn’t expect to run well last year, and I ran bad at places that I expected to run good at. I would say I am excited about the road courses – those are fun for me, and the Bristol night race is always fun for me, too.
ASHLEY: We’ve seen you run a bunch of different cars and tracks. Anything else in the motorsports realm that you’d love to try?
CHRISTOPHER: I don’t know. At this point in this life, I’m ready to focus on my Cup career and get that back headed in the right direction. Last year was very disappointing run as mediocre as we did. This year, I am going to be cutting back on my extra curricular racing and focusing on my Cup career, so I’m sorry I don’t really have a good answer for you there right now.