SSM's Townsend Bell Indy 500 preview

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

SSM's Townsend Bell Indy 500 preview

Townsend Bell Ready To Make History in Historic Indianapolis 500

For most IZOD IndyCar Series drivers, their life revolves around the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. The IZOD IndyCar Series championship is important, as is each of the other 16 races on the 2011 season schedule.

Last year, I’d tell everybody I could how amazing Sam was.

Townsend Bell

But the race, the one that pays the most, comes with the most prestige and etches a driver’s name in the history books is the 200-lap, 800-turn, 500-mile spectacle that will take place for the 95th time on May 28. There is no bigger race in the world and every driver knows it, including Townsend Bell, driver of the No. 99 Herbalife Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM).

While several other drivers competing for one of the 33 starting spots in this year’s “500” starting lineup will participate in other IZOD IndyCar Series events in 2011, the month of May is Bell’s entire season.

But it’s not that he wants it that way. Bell, like any driver, would love to compete during the entire season. But rather than wait around for the phone to ring, Bell works 12 months a year to ensure that he gets to compete at Indianapolis. His racing life truly does revolve around the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and, because of that, he’s become a bit of an Indianapolis specialist.

He is a four-time starter in the Indianapolis 500 and, other than in 2008 when he drove in six other races, his starts in 2006, 2009 and 2010 were his only IndyCar Series events of the season. Twice he has finished in the top-10 – a 10th-place effort in 2006 and an impressive fourth-place result in 2009. He’s also been a solid qualifier, having rolled off the grid 15th or better in three of his four starts (2006, 2008 and 2010).

Competing as a one-off isn’t easy, and only twice in the last 50 years has a driver whose only IndyCar start of the season came in the Indianapolis 500 gone on to victory. Jim Clark (1965) and Graham Hill (1966) scored victories at Indianapolis while taking time from their full-time Formula 1 World Championship driving duties. Parnelli Jones came close in 1967 when, in his only start of the season, he led four times for a race-high 171 laps in Andy Granatelli’s famous STP Turbine. But a mechanical failure with four laps remaining left him agonizingly short of his second “500” victory.

Townsend Bell, Indy 500 2010
Townsend Bell, Indy 500 2010

Photo by: Andy Sallee

Bell, who won the 2001 Firestone Indy Lights championship, knows the challenge that comes with competing in only one race a season. But two things will greatly assist Bell in his quest for glory at Indianapolis.

First, never before has Bell returned to Indianapolis with the team he competed with the previous year. That will change for 2011 as he is back with SSM for the second consecutive year. He worked with team manager Chris Griffis and several other crew members in 2010, which will give Bell and the team familiarity – something that cannot be overstated. He will also be reunited with Gerald Tyler, who was his engineer during his fourth-place effort in 2009, as well as during his 2001 Indy Lights championship season.

Second, Bell’s fitness routine and assistance from sponsor Herbalife have once again put him in top physical condition for the month of May. To say Bell is a fitness fanatic would be a bit of an understatement, and his association with Herbalife, a global nutrition company that has helped people like Bell pursue a healthy, active life since 1980, is a natural fit.

To prepare for the grueling month of May, and also excel during it, Bell relies heavily on Herbalife’s nutrition, weight-management and personal care products, including the new Herbalife24 line of performance nutrition products which will be featured on Bell’s car during the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and will be available worldwide beginning this month.

Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. Louis Meyer won the 25th Anniversary “500” in 1936, while A.J. Foyt (1961) and Bobby Rahal (1986), won the 50th and 75th Anniversary events, respectively. Bell would like nothing more than to win the 100th Anniversary race and add put his name alongside Harroun, Meyer, Foyt and Rahal, as well as join Clark and Hill as “one-off” winners – along with adding his name to the most prestigious club in automobile racing.

Townsend Bell, Driver of the No. 99 Herbalife Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:

Obviously, if you had your preference, you’d be in a car for every IZOD IndyCar Series race. That said, how do you prepare for an Indianapolis 500 “one-off” effort?

“You want to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to be in a position where you’re not at a disadvantage having not driven an IndyCar in 12 months. Mentally, it’s kind of automatic as I think about the Indianapolis 500 every single day. It’s kind of like a disease, but in a good way. You think about it all the time, what you want to improve on, mistakes made in previous Indianapolis 500s and performance opportunities. I try to think of all the little things we’ve done in the past that were right and not forget those. It’s just getting in your mind what the perfect Indy 500 month looks like and getting ever closer to that goal. So, from a mental standpoint, it’s fairly automatic because it consumes a lot of my free bandwidth in terms of thought. From a physical standpoint, I do everything I can to make sure I’m physically prepared and ready to get going. It’s challenging, but we’ve learned to do it fairly well.”

How important is it for you to be back at Indianapolis with the same team for the first time in your career?

“It’s huge in terms of comfort level. Just knowing how Sam works and knowing what to expect as far as team dynamics. It’s the same group of guys I worked with last year in terms of mechanics and over-the-wall guys. It’s a great group of guys led by Chris Griffis. I also have my race engineer from 2009 when I finished fourth, Gerald Tyler – he’s now part of the mix. There’s also a new group, Rob Edwards and Alan McDonald who were part of FAZZT Racing last year, a team that merged with Sam’s team. There’s a mix of repeat and new, but not much of it is that new because, if you’ve been around the paddock long enough, you see a lot of familiar faces and I’ve worked with or know a lot of guys on that team. So that makes it fun.”

You’re reuniting with Gerald Tyler, the engineer you worked with at KV Racing in 2009 when you finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500. He was also your engineer when you won the Indy Lights title in 2001. Talk about working with him again.

“He gives me a lot of confidence. He’s a real stickler for the details and there’s no better place to be a stickler for the details than Indianapolis. We’ve known each other for a long time, now. We have a pretty good batting average together and, hopefully, we can make it even better.”

What do you try to accomplish during each practice day during the month of May?

“A lot of it is determined by weather and what we have. It’s a lot of taking what we know from years past and then validating and confirming that, and then we’ll set about sort of chipping away at things. I fully expect us to be in the window (of speed), which means we’ll just be sort of nudging and tweaking a little bit. If we’re out of the window, then I think we need to kind of get our heads down and make sure we get in that envelope of where we are comfortable. Based on the experience of the team and the track record of the team, it should be a matter of just sort of fine-tuning.”

Townsend Bell, 2010 Indy 500
Townsend Bell, 2010 Indy 500

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

It’s been said many times that the toughest four laps in automobile racing are the four you turn during Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Is that true, and is there added pressure this year due to the number of cars entered in the race?

“The pressure is going to be higher this year just because of the number of cars entered and the fact it’s the 100th Anniversary. Also, the quality of the field is very good this year. So, I think we’ll be that much more on-edge in terms of just making sure we piece it all together and are very, very smart with every decision. We just need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes and also maximize what we have. I’m really excited to see what we have. That will largely determine the extent of the pressure we feel. I think we’ll have fast cars. Last year, I qualified 10th and Alex (Tagliani, teammate) qualified sixth. We’re excited to have a chance to contend for a front-running spot to start the race.”

You’ve had a long association with Herbalife throughout your career. Talk about that and what the company means to you.

“This will be the fourth year with Herbalife. The first year, they were a personal sponsor on my helmet and then became a much bigger supporter and we’re now going into our fourth year together. They’ve been the best sponsor I’ve ever had. They not only provide us everything we need to go fast and make sure we have a quality racing program, but they also help us on the nutritional side and help me specifically to maximize my nutritional program, before during and after any of my physical training and, obviously, during the entire month of May. They’ve stepped that up this year with the launch of their Herbalife24 product line, which is geared toward the 24-hour athlete concept, which means it’s not just what you do during the activity, but also how you prepare and recover. The best thing about Herbalife is that they want to win and they make sure we have the tools to win. You can’t ask for anything else from a sponsor.”

You’ve entered your second Indianapolis 500 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Talk about Sam, the team and the remarkable achievements SSM has enjoyed since its inception in 2001.

“Last year, I’d tell everybody I could how amazing Sam was in that, here’s a guy with four Indy Lights cars, a dominant Indy Lights program, he runs an Indy 500 program, travels 200 days a year, has other business interests, is a father of two and has as foundation. You ask yourself, ‘How does he do it?’ And also, ‘Why am I not doing more?’ And you think, ‘I should be doing more and I should be working harder.’ He’s an example for anybody, regardless of physical condition, about how to maximize your time and maximize your efforts for yourself and those around you. And that was a year ago. Now, you look around and he’s got a full-time IndyCar team, plus his Indy Lights program, plus a collection of other deals at Indianapolis. And it’s a lot, but he seems to pull it off with a lot of planning and process. It’s been fun to have just a little insight into how he does things.”

What does the Indianapolis 500 mean to you?

... there’s something different about Indianapolis because the depth of tradition...

Townsend Bell

“It is, and will forever be, a life-defining experience in terms of being the first-ever major car race I went to when I was 10 years old. Winning it has kind of become a lifelong, persistent challenge and goal. The first milestone was just being in the Indy 500, which was a significant accomplishment given where I started as a kid, just wanting to do some go-karting. Being there was kind of the first goal, finishing was kind of the second goal and running at the front was next. You just sort of work toward winning, and I’m kind of out of excuses. From here on out, it’s just focusing on, ‘OK, how do we win this thing?’”

Are you amazed when you think about the fact you’re competing in a race with a century of tradition and history?

“I guess it’s kind of subconscious. I’ve been to a lot of the big car races – Daytona, Le Mans, Monaco – and there’s something different about Indianapolis because the depth of tradition is so much greater than any other race and it’s almost sort of an unspoken vibe. You just know you’re part of something special. The 100th Anniversary has kind of brought that to the surface and reminded everyone. You appreciate and respect everything that’s gone on before you, from the building of the facility, to the guys who competed, the evolution of safety and the evolution of speed.”

What is your first memory of the Indianapolis 500 as a child?

“My first memory of the track is rain, because it was canceled when I went. It was 1986 and they had to move the race to the following weekend, so I had to fly all the way back to California and then fly back to Indianapolis the next weekend. So, I remember rain and I learned that rain is a part of the Indianapolis 500 and that you have to watch the weather and it rains every year at some point during the month. That’s just part of the deal. My other lasting memory is standing at a urinal and realizing that David Hasselhoff, better known as Michael Knight (on the TV show Knight Rider) was standing at the urinal next to me. When you’re 10 years old and Knight Rider is the show of all shows, that’s pretty cool. It was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Michael Knight.’”

What is your favorite thing about Indianapolis, away from the racetrack?

“I like being downtown a lot. I like staying downtown because there’s a ton of restaurants and you can walk everywhere. It’s probably one of the nicest cities in the country. It’s safe and its family friendly downtown. I really like it there and my family likes spending time there, as well. Last year, after the race, we went out on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and ran around a little bit, which was really cool.”

-source: tsc

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