Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Women in NASCAR: Mackena Bell

Mackena Bell
Credit: Scott Hunter  
Mackena Bell was five years old when she sat in a go kart for the first time, and she wanted no part of it. “I cried up and down the street, and that was kinda that,” Bell recalled.

Mackena's parents, Shannon & Kelly
Bell, were high school sweethearts.
But her aversion to wheels was short-lived. With a dad who raced go karts, spending Saturday nights at the dirt track was a big part of their family life, and she eventually got hooked on motorsports. Mackena remembers seeing baby pictures of herself in a little wagon at the track.

“I think it was his goal to try to make us love the sport as much as he did, and my mom was very supportive of that.”

Sisters on wheels
Born and raised in Carson City, Nevada, Bell and her younger sister Kellcy spent most of their childhood on wheels. Family outings usually included motorized vehicles of some sort – riding jet skis at the lake or four-wheeling over sand dunes. Even at home, they had a race track with jumps in the backyard around the garage.

“We’d go out there and ride our quads for hours until our mom said we had to come inside."

By the time she was 12, Mackena enjoyed go karts and the Bell sisters raced them together for several years. “My dad always said when we would pull into race tracks that he wanted those people to know his girls were there,” Mackena said.

Kellcy (left) and Mackena with their go karts.
And with a record like hers, the people did know. In 2002, Mackena was champion of her Super Outlaw Dirt Kart Box Stock Division. In the four years she competed in dirt karts, she was Rookie of the Year in three different divisions and finished in the top three in points every season. But Mackena is quick to compliment the racing skills of Kellcy, who has two karting championships to her credit. “She was very, very good at it.”
Mackena & Kellcy

From go karts to Legends cars
The local dirt track where she raced Outlaws was inside what Mackena called a “normal Saturday night asphalt track.” She was inspired by an older girl named Amy Barnes, who raced against her dad.

“I remember being her biggest fan. She was in USAC Sprint cars when I was racing go karts in the infield. And I thought, ‘I want to do that one day.’”

At age 14, Bell made the switch from go karts to Legends cars. She won Rookie of the Year and became the first woman to win a Legends championship in the history of Champion Speedway.

Mackena's Legends car
She considers that first year in Legends a turning point in the way she thought about racing. “At first it wasn’t a dream of mine to be a professional race car driver. Then one day it hit me that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else on a Saturday.”

Whereas go kart races were just something she did for fun with her family, Legends races actually had spectators in the stands. Bell could be a role model, helping kids see that they can do whatever they dream of doing.

“When autograph sessions would come up and little girls would say, ‘Wow, you race?’ that’s when I knew, ‘This is a big deal.’ That’s when I knew I didn’t want to do anything else.”

That same year she attended the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program, learning things that molded her thinking and behavior. One key word of advice from St. James stuck with Bell and continues to affect how she conducts herself every day:

“She said, ‘People are always watching you.’ That’s probably the most influential comment anybody has made to me. I think it’s helped in a lot of situations.”

Bell raced throughout her high school years, where she was voted both Prom Queen and Female Class Clown. She laughed about the latter title.

“I’m sure my smart alec ways got me there,” she said. “I like to joke around a lot. I remember getting kicked out of classes, sitting outside the door, for talking too much. I was always talking about racing.”

A new team
When she turned 18, Bell heard about the Drive for Diversity (D4D) program, but she didn’t have enough seat time on asphalt to apply. She and her family bought a Late Model car, formed Mackena Bell Motorsports and she ran her rookie year in the series, finishing eighth in points, even after missing four races.

Bell said being part of a racing family means a lot of sacrifice of both finances and time. “I would like to thank my parents and my sister for their support. I don’t ever really get to say thank you and I hope they realize that it means a lot to me,” Mackena said. “The stories we can tell and the accomplishments my parents and I have achieved and the times and memories with my sister and all that kind of stuff – you can’t put a price tag on it.”

The next year, in 2009, Bell applied for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and was chosen to participate. After running solely on small tracks, moving up to Super Late Models on half-mile tracks had a steep learning curve.


The car Mackena drove at Irwindale, dedicated to grandpa, Leon Mayfield.
A special race
Bell said the tough season also brought her the most meaningful racing achievement to date: becoming the first woman to earn a third place finish at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, CA. It was a smiling-through-tears type of finish for Mackena.

“My great grandpa had passed away a couple months before and this race was on his birthday. He was a really, really big supporter. He was really big on me being in this (D4D) program and unfortunately he never got to see me make it. So being able to finish on podium and make history on his birthday was, out of all the accomplishments I have, it was one of the most important ones. I know that he was watching.”

One step back
In 2010, Bell was chosen for the D4D program again, this time to run the K&N Pro Series East, and she struggled. “I had only every raced at half-mile tracks and I was gonna be racing at Loudon, Dover and these crazy places. I ended up racing six races and crashing out of all of them,” she said. “I think moving far from home was probably my biggest struggle. That was really hard, being away from my family.”

After thinking it over, she asked to return to Late Models for a while. “The team allowed me to take a step back and learn a lot more about myself, about driving in the east and about the race car.” That move proved to be the right decision as she ran late Models through 2012 and got better each year.

On her way
Credit: Scott Hunter
In 2013 Bell returned to the K&N Pro Series East for her first full-time season and it’s going well. As she competes for Rookie of the Year honors, she has nothing but praise for her Rev Racing team.

“I think we’re doing all the right things. We get better every week, we accomplish one more thing.”

Bell and her new crew chief, Nick Hutchins, are ticking off a list of triumphs with the No. 21 Toyota Racing Development Toyota. In race one at Bristol, they finished the race. In race two, they got a top-10 spot in qualifying. Third race, they were fastest in practice and finished 11th. And in her fourth race, at Richmond, Bell earned a career-best fifth place finish.

“Nick is also a rookie crew chief in this series,” Bell said. “He’s very, very smart and we’re kind of just meshing at this point. We both have the same things to prove. To be able to run good with a rookie as a crew chief and as a driver is a big deal.”

Bell said she is grateful to NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Toyota and RevRacing’s Max Siegel for the opportunities they have provided.

“The things you have to overcome in this sport being a female – that’s by far the hardest thing about it,” she said. “This program has given me a racecar to drive for the last five years of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am (without them.)”

Credit: Ade Herbert
Her goals for the rest of this season in the K&N Pro East Series are two-fold: finish in the top 10 in points and win a race.

“I really think that we have the possibility, if all the stars are aligned, that we could win a race this year. That would be awesome.”

Follow Bell on twitter: @MaCkeNaBeLL.
Visit her website at http://www.mackenabell.com/ or RevRacing’s website at http://revracing.net/


All photos are courtesy of Bell Family album, unless otherwise noted.

Skirts and Scuffs appreciates Mackena taking time for an interview. We wish her the best during this race season and beyond.
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Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, editor and media representative for Skirts and Scuffs. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports.

Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or e-mail her at bbreinke@skirtsandscuffs.com






1 comments :

Love this! My 7 year old daughter dreams of being a professional race car driver. Keep paving the way Makena Bell!!

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