Evidently feeling like the guy who saw all the other kids having way too much fun without him, longtime racer Roy Hill announced last weekend at Bristol that he is inviting himself to the party next year.
Hill said that he plans to field a two-car Mountain Motor Pro Stock team in 2020 with Vincent Nobile and Mike Bell, a racer with whom Hill has a long relationship.
Bell’s no stranger to the class. He was, after all, IHRA’s 1995 Pro Stock champion driving a Thunderbird owned by Hill. He’s worked with Hill’s drag racing school, which is now in its 30th year of operation, he’s built his own cars from the ground up, and he works in Fenton, Mo., for car builder Jerry Haas, whose company will provide Hill’s Fords in 2020.
After suffering a series of medical problems, including two heart attacks that required stents to keep the pipelines open, Bell has been cleared by doctors in recent weeks to resume racing. He’s eager to team up with Nobile for what is expected to be a more extensive NHRA schedule next season for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock crowd than its four shows this season.
“I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction,” Bell said of NHRA’s decision to reduce the 500-inch Pro Stock slate in 2019 and add the cars with unlimited cubic inches. “The other just got so boring. That’s the thing, there’s no excitement there whatsoever. With the big motor cars, it’s kind of like the early Pro Mod cars, I guess. You know, that’s what the attraction is there — you never quite know what you’re going to see.”
The differences between the divisions are easily distinguishable, but most stark at the finish line.
The NHRA records for its “classic” Pro Stock ranks are 6.455 seconds, 215.55 mph by Jason Line and Erica Enders, respectively. They’re also four and five years old.
At the first two NHRA events this season for the Mountain Motor cars, the low elapsed time of the weekends were 6.23 at Houston and 6.24 at Charlotte, with matching top speeds of 227 mph. At the higher altitude of Bristol, Tenn., last weekend, and less conducive weather conditions for performance, those numbers swelled to 6.34, 221 — still better than the NHRA Pro Stock marks.
The NHRA’s 2019 slate for the newcomer class — newcomers to NHRA, anyway, after having been on the scene with IHRA and other sanctioning bodies for the past four decades — concludes July 5-7 at Epping, N.H.
Then the existing teams, and Hill’s, will look ahead to 2020 and making an even bigger impression on fans unfamiliar with the throaty, wheelstanding Fords, Chevys and Dodges.
“We actually discussed it for a little while before back earlier in the year and just decided that, you know, if (Hill) wanted to come back and do it that I would, too,” Bell said.
Bell wasn’t looking to vacate a driving position in recent years but was forced to due to health issues. In addition to the now-resolved heart problems, Bell underwent surgeries on his back and feet.
“I didn’t really have any plans of ever coming back and doing this again,” he said. “If it wasn’t for this deal, I wouldn’t have. So it kind of got me back out and back going again, I guess you could say.”
Hill’s newest team will mark at least the third time he has put Bell in the driver’s seat. In addition to their 1995 IHRA title season, they raced an ADRL Pro Extreme car with a screw blower in 2009, but Bell’s back problems put him on the sidelines.
“That’s the biggest reason I quit running that Pro Mod car for Roy back years ago was because of my back issues,” he said.
Before Bell was well known to drag racers in the Southeast, he had worked on the 1989 NASCAR Cup championship team owned by NHRA Funny Car legend Raymond Beadle.
The NASCAR gig is what got Bell, who had raced in the Texas Pro Stock Association, to North Carolina. When Beadle decided to exit NASCAR, Bell stayed in the Tarheel State to help Hill get the driving school off the ground.
Bell definitely made his mark as a driver and car builder. In 2018, he was among the inductees into the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
That’s the kind of honor usually reserved for people whose careers have reached the finish line, but obviously isn’t the case for Bell now that Hill’s bringing him back into action as a teammate to Nobile, a 13-time winner in NHRA Pro Stock action. Hill said at last weekend’s announcement that his cars will be powered by Jon Kaase engines – the horsepower that earned a dozen IHRA Pro Stock titles from 1995-2006.
“Well, it’s just a normal two-car deal,” Bell said. “I mean there’s no, ‘I’m going to drive one and
Vincent’s going to drive another one and it’s just going to be like the old days where Roy and I raced.’ It’s a team deal, it’s not a one-man deal, and we’re both going to have equal equipment.” He’s hoping the duo can be as successful as he and Hill were running team cars in the mid-90s, saying, “if one don’t get you, the other one will.”
If the upstart team can rekindle the Hill/Bell success, that should also be a boost to Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School.
“That’s one of the biggest things that helped his school back in the days was he and I were winning races. … I think that’s where it kind of got off track in a number of ways is just that right there. I know Roy’s having fun right now (competing in Stock), but you know he’s going to probably be a little more attuned in an owner’s role than a driver’s role.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019