Indy 500 Insights: Shifting to race day, beast mode for Townsend Bell

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition will be Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returns to KV Racing Technology, the team where he posted his career-best ‘500 finish of fourth in 2009, and where he seeks to improve upon it this year. The NBC Sports Group Verizon IndyCar Series analyst is able to provide both a driver’s an analyst’s perspective in the field. For part 6 of this daily series through this week (see parts 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 here), Townsend discusses the build-up on race morning.

It’s race day for the 98th Indianapolis 500.

For the first time in one year, Townsend Bell will wake up not as an NBCSN analyst, but as one of the 33 drivers with a shot at eternal glory if he was to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The pre-race preparation is over. But Bell already has close to one 500-mile test in the books, as on Monday’s last day of extended practice (six hours of running), he led the field with 148 laps completed.

“To do 148 laps, I was pretty exhausted,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re 50 short of a full ‘500.

“You’re usually worn out after the race anyway, not just from the setup but also from your physical and mental conditioning standpoint. Hopefully, this makes this race this much easier.”

Bell starts 25th in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, but he’s been very steady and consistent in practice. He ended third on Carb Day, the best day to get a read on cars in race conditions.

As for whether he’s in the zone? The answer is an obvious and distinct, yes.

“I’m already in that mode,” he said. “It’s not something you consciously do – it just sort of happens. Whether you’re ready or not, the biggest, most demanding, most mentally taxing race is upon you. I’m not aware of any driver that has trouble focusing – it’s automatic.”

For what it takes to compete in this race? Bell sums it up nicely.

“It’s that killer, animal-like instinct, and you have to get it on. You don’t have any other option.”

Game on, then, for T-Bell and the No. 6 animal he’ll be wheeling from the inside of Row 9.

Female racer makes history with record finishes in dirt national midget events

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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Holly Shelton is riding high after setting a milestone for a female driver in a national midget series feature event on dirt this past weekend.

The Sacramento, California-area resident recorded the highest finish ever for a female dirt national midget series driver with a runner-up finish last Friday at the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League double-header weekend at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Shelton broke her own national record for top finish by a woman in a national dirt event – she finished third in a USAC race at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, last year.

One night after setting her new national record, Shelton and her Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota roared back Saturday to finish third (started on the outside pole) in the second half of the weekend double-header, making her the first female dirt driver ever on the national midget circuit to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

“It’s cool making history as a female, but my number one thing is I just want to win,” said Shelton, who will be graduating from Cal-State Sacramento with a B.A. in Criminal Justice this fall. “Truthfully, on the track I don’t even remember that I’m a girl. I’m just racing all the guys with the same goal they have – to win.”

Only one other woman has finished second in either a USAC or POWRi midget feature – Sarah McCune at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1999 – but that was on pavement, not dirt.

The record-setting weekend was great consolation for Shelton, who missed three races earlier this season due to surgery and then sat out three other races last month after suffering a race-related concussion.

“It felt good,” she said of her back-to-back podium finishes. “It builds up my confidence. The car is fast and we keep getting better and we want to build on it.”

Shelton was one of four women that competed in midget competition this weekend. The others were 19-year-old Maria Cofer and 16-year-olds Holley Hollan and Presley Truedson.

“It’s awesome seeing all the little girls come up to me excited to see me at the track,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, it encourages them to pursue their dreams as well and, as the years go on, more girls will get into it.”

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