Matthew Bell doesn’t consider himself much of a race car driver – “horrible” is the term he used – but he’s got his eye on a career in the racing world.
What the 24-year-old Tupelo native can do is design and build race cars. For the past six years, he’s been part of the Formula SAE program, in which college engineering students make their own cars from scratch and then pit them against each other at tracks like Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Michigan International Speedway, and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
In June, Bell learned he’d been approved to take a course at an automotive engineering school in LeMans, France. Due to finances, he will wait until November of 2010 to start there.
Bell, who is two classes away from earning his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Mississippi State, will study on the campuses of three different race-related and/or engineering companies.
Bell’s ultimate goal is the end up working for Ferrari in Formula 1 racing, but he’ll have to start in the minor leagues, like Formula Renault or Formula 3.
“That’s my main goal, is to go and meet people and make connections that’ll help me get a better job as I move up,” Bell said. “It’s kind of hard to do that in Mississippi.”
So how did a Tupelo native – who graduated high school at the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science – wind up with such a dream? It’s simple: Spike TV.
When Bell was 13, he started watching the cable network’s weekly Powerblock lineup, a series of automotive shows on Saturday mornings. That provided him with much knowledge, but it wasn’t until he got to MSU that he was able to gain hands-on experience.
He’s been in love with the process of designing and building ever since.
“To me, it’s like an art form,” Bell said, “that you have this complex system that’s working together at top potential all the way around the track over and over again.”
Williams in the mix
n Racing less often could provide bigger dividends for Jess Williams.
The Hickory Flat native has focused this year on racing in the United States Super Trucks Series, an upstart league that runs a seven-race schedule.
Three races into it, Williams is second in the points standings, seven points behind Chris Sevey of Waterloo, Iowa.
Williams had been racing full-time in the Dodge Weekly Racing Series at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway. He’s raced that series once this year.
“Every time you go somewhere and learn a new trick at some other different place, all it can do is help you,” he said. “That’s one thing I was getting frustrated with last year, is just running the same place every weekend. It was getting to where big-money (drivers) out-run us every weekend, and we did as much as we could do.”
If Williams, 23, can end up winning the points title, it could help him in his pursuit of landing a ride in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series someday.
“There’s people there that could see (me),” he said.
– Mantachie’s Houston McCoy is holding his own in the Summer Shootout series, which runs 10 races at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
The 17-year-old has driven to a pair of top-10 finishes in six races in the Briggs Collision Semi-Pro division, where they run legends cars.
“It’s been a huge learning curve, but overall, he’s progressed a lot quicker than we anticipated,” said his father, Ronnie McCoy.
McCoy hasn’t made every race, but he should be in the Aug. 11 finale. He also plans to enter races in Monroe, La., and Mobile, Ala.
He starts his college career at Northeast Mississippi Community College later this month.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal