Christopher Bell scratches his racing itch with winter warmup at DuQuoin

Christopher Bell scratches his racing itch with winter warmup at DuQuoin
C Bell greets fans at Southern Illinois Center. Photo by Lee Spencer

DUQUOIN, Ill.—After missing the West Coast USAC swing in November, Christopher Bell yearned to drive a midget.

The opportunity to partner with RMS Racing for the Jason Leffler Memorial provided Bell with the perfect opportunity to refresh his skills prior to next month’s Chili Bowl Nationals.

“I got the itch,” Bell said with a smile. “It was kind of a late deal to put it together to drive for RMS. I’m thankful that Matt and Dave Estep are excited to have me and they’re able to bring a car out for me to race.

“I always have a good time whenever I come here. I think I’ve run here a number of times. It’s the middle of December—what else are you going to do? This is a fun place if the track is prepared right, and I’m excited to be racing.”

While Saturday’s eighth running of the event—honoring Leffler, the four-time USAC National driving champion--is making its debut at Southern Illinois Center,  neither Bell nor RMS are strangers to the 1/5-mile dirt oval. Bell won here in December 2017 and RMS scored the victory with Thomas Meseraull the following year.

The 40-car field should provide Bell with a solid warm-up entering Tulsa next month. After a two-year absence, he'll return to the Keith Kunz Motorsports stable. 

Bell bristled when asked whether two-time defending Chili Bowl Nationals winner and NASCAR champion Kyle Larson has the upper hand.

“I still won my prelim night (last year) and I beat his ass in the Race of Champions,” Bell said. “I led 30 laps two years ago and I almost passed him on the last lap last year. So is he the guy to beat?

Maybe Larson’s 10 NASCAR Cup wins to Bell’s one last year were a bit more intimidating, but Bell scoffed at that notion, too.

“Obviously, he’s going to have success. He’s a talented race car driver. This year, I firmly believe he was in the best race cars and he’s a great race car driver. So he’s going to win. But I’m not intimidated by that.”

Ever since Bell, who turned 27 earlier this week, rose through the NASCAR ranks, fans have desperately been waiting for him and Larson to recreate their rivalry on asphalt. This year, they might finally get their chance.

“Obviously, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, we’re close,” Bell said. “It seems like Hendrick has had a slight advantage over us the last few years, so it’s going to be interesting to see what  happens with the Next Gen car.”

Bell said he has been told he is finished testing the Next Gen car for the off-season which will allow him to focus solely on his fourth Golden Driller. But as for his comfort level behind the wheel of the 2022 Camry,

“I’m getting there,” Bell said. “Whenever I drove the car at Bristol, it was the NASCAR RCR-prepared car and I was not comfortable. I was not comfortable in the car. It just felt foreign. But then the first car I did for the JGR car at the end of this year, I was much happier.

“There are a couple of things that are different about it—like the throttle cable. I’m not a fan at all of the throttle cable. The shifter location, they’re working on getting the shifter location a little bit better for me, but the JGR-prepared car was a lot more comfortable for me and I think we can make it even better for me going into next year, for sure.”

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