During my day at Pocono Raceway, I also got a chance to meet a real driver, named Mackena Bell. She’s part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity, the industry’s leading development program for minority and female drivers and crew members. She is the 2010 NASCAR Drive for Diversity/Revolution Racing Selected Driver, and the only female selected from 30 participants to earn a position on the K&N Pro Series East Team.
I talked to her about her crazy job, dating on the track, Tony Stewart, and Danica’s role in racing.
S.E. Cupp (SE): So how’d you get started?
Mackena Bell (MB): My family has always been involved in racing. I got started at the age of 12, on a Saturday night in the summer of 2002. My dad and I went out to our local asphalt track that was just about a mile from our home. Running in the middle of the track was a small dirt track where Super Outlaw Karts where putting on an exhibition. It looked like a ton of fun. I asked my dad if he would consider buying me a go-kart, and that night we came home with one. The following weekend I lined-up for my first race, finished 2nd in the Main Event and well…the rest is history.
SE: Was there ever any fear on your parents part that you might get hurt? That girls shouldn’t drive race cars?
MB: I know that there is ALWAYS some fear that I might get hurt in both my mom and dad. We have talked about the fear. We have even talked about the “what if’s…” It is never far from their minds, but it is not their focus. My parents realized from the minute I climbed into a go-kart my passion for this sport. They have encouraged my passion and recognize that when I am at the racetrack, I am happiest. They undoubtedly support my dream 100%, despite the fear factor.
Girls shouldn’t drive a race car? I have never heard that from my parents. In fact, it has always been the extreme opposite. I have been raised to believe that I can do whatever I set my mind to. What I have heard my parents say is, “If you want it bad enough, you must work hard enough to make it happen.” And that is the motto I live by.
SE: What is it about racing that you like so much?
MB: The adrenaline, hands down. When I climb into the race car, cinch down the safety belts and hit the start button, there is not a worry in the world. I’m incredibly focused on what I have to do and the world just feels right; I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. And of course beating the men drivers that are certain they would lap me is always nice.
SE: Most people date people where they work eventually. Any romance on the track?
MB: I feel like I don’t have enough time for myself or my family and so there is seldom time for romance. However, I do believe that dating someone who completely understands my passion for this sport and shares that same passion is a definite plus. This sport can make romance very difficult. You have to be a very competitive person to do well in racing and some men cannot deal with that type of personality.
NEXT: Bell’s favorite race car drive
SE: Who’s your favorite driver?
MB: Tony Stewart by a mile.
SE: Me too. What is it about Smoke that you like? I dig his unapologetic pudge.
MB: I appreciate that he is who he is, he believes what he believes and he is not afraid to say what is on his mind, no matter the pressure from media, sponsors, etc. This sport can change people if they allow it. Tony has not allowed it and I have an incredible respect for people like that. I appreciate that he took a chance and started his own race team, both in NASCAR and the World of Outlaw Sprint Car series. I’m a huge Sprint Car fan. No matter your “fame,” you must always remain true to yourself, your roots and those who have supported you along the way. Those are the people that matter.
SE: What are your other hobbies?
MB: When I’m not racing, I love to hang out with my family and closest friends. I enjoy being at the lake; boating, wakeboarding, tubing, just relaxing and not talking racing.
I also love basketball and volleyball. I have played, coached and ref’d and I love to watch my little sister, Kellcy, play for our high school. I am by far her biggest fan (I’m sure my Mom would disagree) and trust me when I tell you that you can hear me above all the rest when the refs make a bad call or my sister makes one of her 3 pointers!
I enjoy spending time just chatting with Kellcy, whether on the phone or texting. She is a beautiful writer and I love to sit back and just listen to her. She truly is an inspiration to me. I miss her terribly.
SE: What’s the hardest part about being a woman in racing? I imagine problems with helmet hair.
MB: I don’t have to give much thought to this question. My answer is “The double standards.” Simply said, they expect you to be a young lady, but they also expect you to fit in, be one of the guys and not take offense to anything they might say that isn’t “politically correct.”
I have been told a million times that I have a fun and outgoing personality. I can get along with just about anybody and I know that is important in life as well as in a predominantly male sport. But honestly, most, if not all of the joking doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I have a line, and if they cross it, they will know it. Life is too short to be serious all the time. My place to be serious is in my race car.
NEXT: Bell’s thoughts on Danica Patrick
SE: What are your thoughts on Danica? Does she exploit her sex appeal wisely? Or is she doing women drivers a disservice by being so forward?
MB: I believe that Danica has taken the first steps in opening not only the doors, but the minds of many team owners, drivers and fans. It is no secret that there are plenty of NASCAR fans that believe women have no place on the track. But there are many more NASCAR fans that think they do. I don’t personally know Danica, but I like to believe that if she is anything like me she does things that are true to herself.
Time will tell if she’s doing women drivers a disservice. For those of us women drivers who make it to the top because of our driving talent, we will be remembered for just that, driving talent. I am hopeful that Danica will continue to open doors for women in this sport. There is always a time and place for everything, and the time and place for women on the race track is NOW.
You can follow the Drive for Diversity Program in a new series called “Changing Lanes” on BET every Wednesday at 10pm ET. It chronicles the search for the next generation of women and minority race car drivers, and is narrated by rapper/actor Ludacris.