Greater Victoria driver Bill Okell, driving an Austin Healey and leading Craig Carter in the orange Nissan and John Bower in the white one, heads around a banked turn at Button Willow Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. in April. Okell went on to win the race and set a track record, and later qualified for this fall’s Sports Car Club of America national championships at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. CaliPhoto

Brickyard beckons to veteran Greater Victoria driver

Bill Okell heading to Indianopolis for sports car national championships

It may not have started out as a bucket list item for Bill Okell, but racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will rank right there with his career racing accomplishments.

The 62-year-old driver is gearing up to compete at the Sports Car Club of America’s national championships, also known as “the runoffs,” being held this fall for the first time at The Brickyard. Okell will drive the same black Austin Healey he piloted to the SCCA Western Conference title driving for car owner Joe Huffaker.

“I think it’s one of those things … you set goals in your life, [but] for me this wasn’t on my radar,” Okell said. “We were gearing up to race [the nationals] at Sears Point [California] next year, but when they said Indy, I said, ‘I really want to see if we can make this happen.’”

The Saanich resident will drive in two classes at Indianapolis, F Production and GTL. With this year’s runoffs attracting record registrations, both classes will likely have between 40 and 60 drivers competing, he said.

The course combines the oval and a road course, giving drivers a 2.592-mile circuit with 15 turns. Each race is 19 laps, or roughly 40 minutes.

Okell admitted he won’t be the youngest competitor in his class, but he still feels good physically, mentally and spiritually and that his racing skill set remains solid. “I feel the same physically as when I was 40 … If I could get in the top 10 or even the top six, that would be a great goal,” he said. “Top six would be ideal.”

It’s been a banner season for the sports car racing veteran, whose career highlights have mostly come behind the wheel of his own modified 1964 MGB.

He drove the Austin to two straight SCCA U.S. Majors Hoosier Super Tour wins one spring weekend – “it took me three years to win one,” Okell said – and emerged needing only one third-place finish in the next two races to clinch the championship.

He took it down to the wire: serious transmission problems prevented him from finishing on day 1 in Shelton, Wash., but his crew located parts elsewhere and installed them that night. The next day he managed to finish third and won the crown by a single point.

The previous month Okell set a track lap record at Button Willow Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

More recently he scored a two-victory weekend with the MGB at Sears Point in the NASPORT Light series. He’ll line up to race closer to home Aug. 19 and 20 at the River’s Edge Raceway in Mission amongst a field of vintage cars, and will wind up his season with the Pacific Coast Road Racing Championships at the United States Auto Club track in east Los Angeles in the fall.

In general Okell feels that he’s driving almost as well as he ever has. After taking a hiatus from the sport between 1988 and ‘95, he became more focused and driven, he added, and that attitude has stayed with him.

It’s also made racing more fun, to the point where he sees himself continuing for some time yet.

editor@vicnews.com

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