Bell: “Trading in my announcer suit for Robert Graham firesuit this May”

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NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell will be writing a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his first entry, filed after the car reveal of the No. 24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing and his first full day of practice on Monday, May 11.

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Bell in Robert Graham hat with No. 24. Photo: INDYCAR

Hi everyone, this is Townsend Bell from the “Greatest Racing Facility in the World,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I have exchanged my NBC Sports announcer sports coat for my wild-looking Robert Graham driving uniform this month as I return to the Indianapolis 500 as a competitor.

Now, my regular job is driving a race car in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship for Scuderia Corsa with my partner Bill Sweedler in a Ferrari in the GT Daytona class. In fact, we finished fourth a week ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and currently rank second in the GTD point standings. But I then flew directly to Indianapolis to get ready for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

It’s always a thrill to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the biggest race in the world. Last year, we were running with second with 20 laps to go and we had a suspension failure late in the race. So I truly believe we can produce another strong run in the Indy 500. Working with the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team is exciting because this race is all the team concentrates for the entire year. And Indy is my only Verizon IndyCar Series of the year too.

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Bell and Dennis Reinbold unveil the No. 24. Photo: INDYCAR

Dennis Reinbold’s team has been strong in recent years too with a fourth with driver Oriol Servia and a ninth last year with a rookie, Sage Karam. This team’s pit stops are always quick and the team has solid experience on running well at IMS.

Bringing Robert Graham back as a partner is a tremendous plus for the team as well as Royal Purple. I think you can see that the Robert Graham Special has the most unique paint scheme in this year’s Indy 500 field. I know that the fans will enjoy the scheme too. The car looks great and we want it to be fast too. Our goal is put No. 24 Robert Graham Special in victory on May 24.

And speaking of the No. 24, this year, we are saluting a Hoosier favorite and IMS legend, Jeff Gordon. We have had Jeff’s blessing on using his No. 24 script and our car’s cockpit is adorned with a montage of Jeff’s victories at the Brickyard 400. Wouldn’t that be something if Jeff’s No. 24 gets back to the winner’s circle at IMS? That is our plan.

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Bell heads out for practice. Photo: INDYCAR

On Monday, I took to the famed 2.5-mile oval for the first time since last May 25 in the 98th Indy 500 as we had the first day of practice runs for the 500.

We really didn’t have any issues today as the crew did a great job preparing the Robert Graham Special for me. I want to thank Davey Hamilton for shaking down the car at the test on May 3 while I was racing at Laguna Seca. The driver (Bell) now has a few kinks to work out here at Indy but it feels so good to come back to the Speedway. Compared to what I race in the sports cars, this feels like a rocket ship.

The car is not much was different despite the new “Body Kits” from Chevrolet. In 2015, the Verizon IndyCar Series added the new body kits from Chevy and Honda and we’ll see how development program works the best as this race is the first for the Speedway kits. The car felt similar to last year’s Dallara chassis except that gusts of wind were coming across the front straightaway from the tunnels of the main grandstand. That did affect my car at times. In fact, I thought the car was broken at one time due to the wind bouncing the car around. It was an interesting experience but I’m glad I felt it today.

Overall, it was a very good first day and I think we can improve on it.

This week, we have two-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr. is serving as my spotter in turn three. It is an honor to have Al helping us this week. Whatever tidbit of information I can take from a legend like Al is a benefit at Indy. It’s great to have him help us this week.

Thanks very much for reading our columns this month from Indy and we’ll have another you soon.



Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”