Townsend Bell is another driver whose career was irrevocably hurt by “The Split.”
Despite Tony George’s claims that the IRL was founded to give young American drivers a better shot at a professional Indycar career it didn’t work out for Townsend Bell. Bell dominated the 2001 Indy Lights championship, a field that included Dan Wheldon, Jon Fogarty and Mario Dominguez. However, that wasn’t good enough to get a ride with a top team in the IRL and Bell ended up in CART. He made two half-seasons worth of starts with underfunded Patrick Racing. He showed some flashes of brilliance but in order to get a ride with any team other than Newman Haas, Team Penske and Ganassi a driver needed to bring money, money bell never had.
Since 2004 he’s made spot starts in Indycar with some really good results considering his lack of testing. His best finish is fourth, which came in the 2009 Indy 500 for KV Racing. This year he’s back with Panther Racing, good funding from Sunoco and the Turbo movie. He is the second fastest one-off driver in field and is with a team that routinely expands for Indy, so they know what they’re doing, well kinda. In a moment of man-think they decided to pull out of a 20th place birth in the field in the hopes of making the fast nine. That plan didn’t work out, they almost missed the top 25 and had to make a third run to get into the field at 23th. It wasn’t the smartest decision ever, but it was a brave one that ultimately didn’t cost them that much.
Townsend is at the track every weekend for his duties as a commentator and he knows that a good run here could lead to more races later in the season. I’d look for Townsend to get a strong finish, but he knows that tearing up equipment is a good way to not get asked back.
This article is one in a series focusing on the one off drivers filling the grid of 33 at this year’s Indy 500.