Derek Reginald Bell MBE (born 31 October 1941 in Pinner, Middlesex, England) is a British racing driver who was extremely successful in sportscar racing, winning the Le Mans 24 hours five times, the Daytona 24 three times and the World Sportscar Championship twice. He also raced in Formula One for the Ferrari, Wheatcroft, McLaren, Surtees and Tecno teams. He has been described by fellow racer Hans-Joachim Stuck as one of the most liked drivers of his generation.
Bell grew up on a farm and helped to run the Church Farm caravan site, complete with its own pub, near Pagham Harbour before being encouraged by his stepfather Bernard Hender to take up racing with a Lotus Seven in 1964. He won his first race in the Lotus at Goodwood in March of that year. He graduated to Formula Three in the following year racing a Lotus 31 and in 1966 switched to a Lotus 41 scoring his first victory, again at Goodwood. In 1967 he enjoyed seven wins. He entered Formula Two in a privateer Brabham BT23C fielded by his stepfather’s Church Farm Racing team and after several promising performances, which caught Enzo Ferrari’s eye, made his Formula One Grand Prix debut for Ferrari at Monza in 1968. In 1969 he raced the four-wheel-drive McLaren M9A in its only ever race at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Bell took part in the filming of Le Mans (1970) starring Steve McQueen, and he and his family lived with the McQueen family during the filming, the two becoming friends. Bell had a lucky escape during the making of the film. The Ferrari 512 he was driving suddenly caught fire whilst getting into position for a take. He managed to get out of the car just before it was engulfed in flames and suffered minor burns. Although the car was badly damaged, it was later rebuilt and is still racing at historic meets.
Bell finished second in the 1970 European Formula Two Championship, driving a Brabham BT30 for Wheatcroft Racing. In 1972 he got a drive in the Tecno Formula One team, along with Nanni Galli. He later raced a number of times for the Surtees team, including a 6th place at the 1970 United States Grand Prix racing a Surtees TS7, which was to be his highest finish in the Formula One World Championship.
It was to be in sports car racing, which he came to via a drive in Jacques Swaters privately entered Ferrari 512M in the 1970 Spa 1000 km, leading to a Ferrari works drive at the 1970 Le Mans 24 hours, where he built a strong reputation as a world class and world championship winning racer.