Bell’s Andretti Indy 500 opportunity set to fulfill lifelong dream

Photo: Tony DiZinno

Interestingly, NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell’s first full-time season as a driver in North American open-wheel racing was Michael Andretti’s last full-time season, in 2002 in the CART series.

In 2006, Bell made his Indianapolis 500 debut. That same year, Andretti came out of a three-year retirement and lost in a heartbreaker, as Sam Hornish Jr. passed both him and Marco Andretti in the final laps to snatch the win in the 90th running.

Ten years later, Bell and Andretti’s paths have intersected again as Bell will complete Andretti Autosport’s five-car lineup for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the team’s No. 29 Honda. Commercial partners are expected to be announced in Long Beach.

It’s a marriage of convenience – Bell’s confirmation came with only three projected remaining extra spots at Andretti, KVSH and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – but it’s also a marriage of opportunity for both parties.

It gives Bell his best shot to win the Indianapolis 500, provided the Honda aero kit and engine is better than it was last year. It also gives Andretti Autosport another veteran presence alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, with Alexander Rossi now able to draw on four experienced teammates ahead of his first month of May.

“Running with Andretti, at Indianapolis, for the 100th running… for a kid who’s been in love with the sport as long as I have, it’s a dream come true,” Bell told NBC Sports.

“I know how important the Indy 500 is to Honda, and they’ve been a great support in helping to make this happen with Andretti, and wanted it to happen with Andretti. They’re an organization with a strong winning pedigree. I’m excited to go in and make this as strong as possible.”

Bell returns to Honda for the first time since 2012, when he also last worked with Rob Edwards, then the general manager at Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and now the director of race engineering and operations at Andretti Autosport.

It’s no surprise the opportunity to work with Edwards again was one of the key selling points.

“I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for him, with his leadership, precision and organization,” Bell explained. “So Rob had reached out to me when he knew I was talking with Michael, and talked in terms of what they could deliver.”

Andretti, too, has hailed Bell’s arrival – and made an interesting comparison.

“I think it’ll bring a lot to the party. A little bit like (the late) Justin (Wilson) last year, it helped a lot having him in the fifth car, and I think it’ll be a similar situation with having Townsend, having someone of similar experience around there,” Andretti told NBC Sports.

“He’s fast around there. He’s always in the top 10. I think it’ll be good.”

Bell also looks forward to the chance to work with Craig Hampson, the veteran engineer.

“That’s pretty special. He has such a great reputation,” Bell said. “Speaking with Paul Tracy, PT is never one to hesitate to give you an opinion. When I told him I was working with Craig, his eyes lit up as he said, ‘Man, that’s gonna be a strong program.’ I’m very fortunate.”

It’s a welcome landing spot for Bell after a frantic few months for his 2016 racing plans. His planned full-season effort to defend his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class championship with O’Gara Motorsport came unglued when O’Gara’s motorsports program dissolved for unexpected business reasons; Bell and longtime co-driver Bill Sweedler struck a deal with Change Racing to run that team’s second Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

And while it’s early April, this is still an earlier announcement of Bell’s ‘500 program than last year with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

“It’s been a weird first quarter of the year. Last December I would have told you I’d never had a more solid stable situation,” Bell said.

“Things got out of our hands a bit quickly. It took a while to get things back on track, but now we have.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws

The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)