VINTON–Starting in 2005, Hot Rod Magazine began sponsoring the annual Top Speed Challenge. The East Coast Timing Association (ECTA) runs the event. It started off at the mile-long Maxton course in North Carolina, but has now moved to the Ohio Mile in Wilmington, Ohio.
The winner of the challenge who turns in the fastest time in the Street and Super Street classes at the season opener in May receives the coveted Top Speed Challenge Jacket.
Jay Bell of Vinton won the Hot Rod Magazine Top Speed Challenge in Real Street on May 1, recording a time of 229 miles per hour in his Rydin Decal Racing team’s car, nicknamed “Lucy.” To be considered for the Top Speed Challenge, the car must be capable of doing at least 200 mph.
He had the fastest time in another year, but lost on a technicality.
A “Real Street” car is a vehicle that is street legal with all street equipment like functional lights, signals, wipers, horns, radiator and an alternator in natural place and working order. Real Street cars are naturally aspirated with just a carburetor and the engine pulling on its own. There is no forced air—no fuel injection and no supercharging. The choice of engine, transmission, and rear end is unlimited. There is a parachute for slowing down.
Super Street cars, on the other hand, are supercharged with air forced into the engine by a mechanical device.
Landspeed racing involves one car on a track alone, not side by side racing, driving a distance of one mile or five miles, depending upon the event. “It’s just you and the clock,” says Bell.
Times are compared and the winner declared at the end of competition.
His car started off as a 1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, now powered by 569 cubic inch big block Chevrolet 1000 horsepower engine, plus a 400 horsepower shot of nitrous.
Bell credits his interest in racing to a childhood spent around his grandfather who was involved in the sport, mainly at circle tracks.
Later on he restored cars and then built a hot rod.
As an adult, he was introduced to racing again by his wife’s cousin who rode motorcycles at the Maxton track. He went along as the support crew, and soon ended up racing himself, first modified mini pickup trucks, and then cars.
He started out racing at Maxton in 2001 and first set a land speed record the next year in 2002 running at 154.559 miles per hour. In 2007 and 2011 he won the ECTA points championship.
Bell says there is no monetary reward in this type of racing, no big pay days for winning a race—mainly you receive “a piece of paper” highlighting your achievements.
Besides his win in May, he also is proud of becoming part of the 200 MPH Club, once again a coveted award because a driver has to break a record to get it. He received that award and a treasured hat in Ohio in 2015 for a speed of 237.217 mph.
Bell says he now has a wall and shelves full of certificates and trophies, but that is not what sustains his interest in racing. The motivation is in the challenge of building faster cars and in building the teamwork that leads to those successes.
His team is “Rydin Decal Racing,” with team members from across the country–from Roanoke to Florida to Pagosa Springs in Colorado. He says they stay in frequent communication.
He generally races at the Ohio Mile twice a year and more than once each year in Colorado. He recently returned from Pike’s Peak racing where his team competed in hill climbing racing although he was not at the wheel this time. In his very first Colorado Hill Climbing competition last year he placed second.
Next year he hopes to take a car to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. In September he’ll be returning to Ohio with a speed goal of 250-280 mph.
Bell has several sponsors with Rydin Decal as his principal support, but also including Parelli Horsemanship in Colorado, Pagosa Springs Bank, Seidle Race Engines, Pro Systems Carburetor in Florida, and Induction Solutions.
He is in the process of finishing construction on a very spacious garage for working on race cars at his home in Vinton. He has a milling machine and makes and modifies many car parts himself. He picked up those skills from his grandfather who had a mechanical background and from shop teacher Charlie Overfelt.
He is also involved in developing his own technology to increase horsepower and improve aerodynamics on the cars he and his team build.
Bell is the service manager at H & E Equipment in Roanoke which deals with large construction equipment, cranes, and heavy trucks.
He says that he has a very supportive family with his wife Keisha, who is a teacher, daughter Chandler, and his 11 year old son Jake who also likes racing and impressively learned how to weld when he was just eight years old.
He also says that he has another family in his race team; they all pull together reaching those top speeds. In fact, he says he feels very blessed to be part of the landspeed racing sport which allows him to travel and meet people with his same interests across the country and to “make friends everywhere.” He says he has gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from all of them.
Bell says he isn’t continually absorbed in working on race cars in his every spare moment, but that in the days before a race pretty much he and his teammates spend “a solid week” in preparation. Teammates Ed Sellers and Eric Gelman make the 10-hour drive up from Florida when a race is imminent. He is especially grateful to them and also to Mark Weiler of Parelli for giving him the opportunity with this car.
He also appreciates the efforts of Vinton Town Manager Barry Thompson, the employees in the Vinton Planning and Zoning Department, and Public Works employees Mike Faw and Kevin Orange for their advice and assistance in getting his new garage built “just right”—from permits to water lines.
Asked if he is ever concerned about safety, Bell says that usually the experience is so exhilarating that he doesn’t give a thought to any danger traveling at such high speeds. He does carry along a good luck charm of a sort in the rear seat in each race—Coney, a traffic cone he earned once for an especially innovative day in the shop and who has now become the team mascot.