Former sportscar driver TJ Bell will change his career path significantly in the coming year, having opted to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series instead of looking for a ride in either the American Le Mans or Grand-Am championships.

The 22-year old Reno native has raced open-top sports prototypes in the recent years, making a name of himself at the wheel of an Ascari in both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

However, after having talked to Panoz about a possible full factory seat for the ALMS and Le Mans in 2003, Bell took the surprise option of signing up for a season in the third biggest division of NASCAR racing, behind the Winston Cup and Busch Series. As a result, he will compete in 19 of the series' 25 scheduled races, at the wheel of a Chevrolet entered by Team Racing of Concord, North Carolina.

"We were looking carefully at what we could ultimately achieve in sportscars," Bell explained, "The highest we could possibly go to was a deal with Panoz, but we felt there were a lot more opportunities in NASCAR - not least because there are a whole lot more races. There are 25 races in our series this year, and I get to do a lot more races than I would in sportscars. Racing is what I love doing most."

Bell has already had his first taste of stock car racing when he underwent a few lessons at the famed Richard Petty Driving Experience in Las Vegas. The youngster totalled 60 laps - enough to get a feel of the difference between NASCAR and sportscars.

"It's a much heavier car with a lot more movement than the sportscar," he reasoned, "It feels slower because you don't have the wind blowing into your face. And, since it's got a much bigger steering wheel, you've also got to slow down your hands movement compared to what I was used to from sportscars."

Subsequently, there's not much Bell can actually take with him from the successful sportscar days, and he fully appreciates that he's got a lot to learn this year.

"The driving style is completely different," he admitted, "But I've learnt that the biggest deal with the trucks is conserving tyres - and tyre management is something I've found out a lot about in the Ascari.

"You carry a lot more speed into the corners than in a sportscar, but you've still got to hit the mark in the turns. I know it's gonna be a big learning curve - just like when I first started in sportscars. I'm really looking forward to the new challenge. My aim has got to be to qualify for all the races that I'll be doing. A position somewhere around the top 15 would be a good deal for me."

In order to speed up his apprenticeship, Bell has moved from Reno to North Carolina to live next to Team Racing.

"I work in the shop every day and I'm really learning a lot of stuff there," he explained.

Bell will start testing in North Carolina right after the season opener in Daytona on 14 February, a race he won't attempt to qualify for. His first race in the series will be on 23 March in Bakersville.