Mike “Too Tall” Bell passed away this past weekend from what was reported as a heart attack, while mountain biking. MIke was 63 years old. Mike Bell rode for Team Yamaha during his entire pro career. His biggest claim to fame was winning the 1980 AMA Supercross Championship, but Bell proved very versatile throughout his seven-year professional career, winning a total of 20 AMA and Trans-AMA events.
The son of famed four-stroke tuner Bill Bell, who worked out of the highly regarded Long Beach Honda shop . Mike and his family were a fixture in the heated SoCal motocross wars where the fastest riders would go at it up to four times a week at tracks as diverse as (night tracks) Ascot, Irwindale, Lions and OCIR, and (day tracks) Saddleback, Carlsbad, Indian Dunes and Escape Country. Mike started riding at age 10 in the mountains outside Los Angeles where his family had a cabin, but unlike many of his contemporaries who started much younger, Bell did not start racing until he was 14.
During the early 1980s, knee injuries kept Mike off of his bike during long periods of rehabilitation. His final racing year was 1983. He scored his last victory at the 1983 Dallas Supercross. He retired at the end of 1983 season.
My first bike: “We were pretty much a motorcycle family growing up. When I was 10 I rode my grandma’s step-thru Honda 50. Then my parents got me a Honda 110. The first bike I rode in a race was a Sachs 125 we borrowed from a friend. For my tenth grade graduation they bought me a square barrel Maico 250 and from that point on I was a real motorcycle racer.”
My first Superbowl of MX: “It was in 1974 at the High School MX exhibition race. Back then a lot of high schools had MX teams and we had to race a qualifier to get in. Marty Smith was a senior and already a factory rider so he was all everyone thought about. I got the holeshot and all I could think about was “when will Marty pass me?” He finally did with two laps to go. That was probably my greatest second place finish ever!”
My first factory ride: “While I was racing CMC I always had good bikes. My dad built me some fast Honda Elsinores. They were just like the hot rods he used to build, real sleepers. They would look plain, but they were fast and built to last. In 1976 I got a ride with DG to race a Suzuki in the Trans-AMA support class. Even though I didn’t do that well, it did start to get me noticed. Halfway through the ’77 season Yamaha hired me. I won the USGP Support class that year and then got a full factory ride for 1978. I remember the first time I got to fly to a race. It was like an out of body experience to be packing for three days and then driving to the airport. It was the first time I felt like I was in the business of being a motorcycle racer.”
My first Supercross win: “I came back to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1978 as a factory Yamaha rider. That was an amazing night for me because I ended up beating my teammate Bob Hannah and he really wanted the win bad. In fact, Bob was so aggressive that I don’t think I had any numbers left on my bike after that race! The next morning I woke up and I honestly thought it was all a dream. I thought I’d dreamt about winning until I looked over on my dresser and saw the trophy sitting there.”
My first Championship: “I won the AMA Supercross title in 1980. I really had a lot of momentum going that year because I ended up winning seven main events. I actually wrapped up the title in Philadelphia. It was a double header and I won the first night. All I had to do was finish tenth or better the next night and I got second behind Broc. I think the thing I remember most was getting all the congratulations from the other riders. Kent Howerton was a real fierce competitor and he came and shook my hand. Gaylon Mosier had some kind words and the thing was that these were the guys I really respected when I was growing up. The icing on the cake was to go the last round in San Diego and win that one too. The promoter gave me 75 tickets for my friends and family so that was a really great night to celebrate.”
My first hero: “When I was 14 my hero was Roger DeCoster. Everything I knew about the sport was what I read in the MXA and he was “The Man” back then! Roger epitomized everything that was cool, he was so stylish. My first chance to see him came when some friends and I rode our Schwinn Stingrays from Lakewood to Saddleback which was about 60 miles away. We left at 4:00 in the morning and didn’t even have money for tickets. We rode around the back to sneak in and actually got to see some races before we got caught and kicked out. It was probably a good thing that that happened since we did need to get a head start since it ended up being like a 14 hour day. Like so many other kids back then, I’d have to say Malcolm Smith was another big hero of mine and it was cool because years later I raced in his gear.”
Mike Bell and Dave Osterman. Photo: Jim Gianatsis
My favorite factory bike: “I think my favorite works bike was the OW39. The first time I rode it was at Saddleback Park. Dave Osterman called me to say that we’d been invited to test the 1978 500cc race bike with Heikki Mikkola. Just to go riding with Heikki was in and of itself a career highlight. The track was its usual dry, hard pack, slick weekday self, but the bike was amazing. I loved it and couldn’t wait to race it. I won my first National on that OW39 a few months later in St. Louis, Missouri. I went 1-1 to beat my long-time hero Marty Smith. Another dream had come true!”
The “Let Broc Bye” race: “I rode that day in San Antonio. I was brought in like other teammates to help Yamaha win the championship. There were no tactics ever discussed by management or riders. This was my first chance to ride in the National class as a factory rider. To that point I had only competed in support class races at previous Nationals. I actually had what most would consider a respectable finish, as I went 5-4 for 4th overall, Mark Barnett finished 5th. But to put into perspective, Broc, Danny and Bob lapped us both motos. They were in a whole different league, but I was quietly proud of my accomplishment for the day.”