TORONTO, Ontario — Some know Townsend Bell for his success behind the wheel of a racecar, most recently scoring a second-place finish in his class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Others know him for his work in the NTT IndyCar Series broadcast booth alongside Leigh Diffey and Paul Tracy.
Recently, the American was at the Official Canadian International Auto Show and POPULAR OPEN WHEEL caught up with him to talk everything motorsports.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: To start off, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. What are your thoughts on how that went?
TOWNSEND BELL: It was a wild race. Craziest Daytona that I’ve ever had, just because of the weather; incredible amount of rain. With a brand new team – half American, half Canadian – and my biggest takeaway was tremendous pride in the people, way more for them than myself.
To bring two organizations together, a manufacture with pedigree in Lexus with high expectations, the team, the people just performed flawlessly. Both cars ran every lap available and we finished both cars in the top-five, our car on the podium, and there’s so many little stories in the background of how that came to be. So it was just a proud moment to see everything come together.
POW: Now with the situation that you were dealt with the weather, do you believe that race control made the right call?
BELL: For sure. When you’re seeing millions of dollars of crash damage take place, and candidly lives at risk in those situations – being in the wet is not a problem. We have amazing Michelin tires and the drivers are capable and the cars are capable in the wet. But when you have standing water, lakes are forming, that’s a step too far.
So I think the officials made the right decision and candidly, I was thrilled. We were sitting in third, and we thought, ‘We’ll take it, first race podium.’ But it was very difficult conditions. My co-driver Jeff Segal was brilliant in managing what is a very challenging mental overload to drive in that environment.
POW: Now that the first race of the season is done and under your belt, what are your thoughts moving forward?
BELL: The crazy thing is we finished third, and then second-place was penalized a week later so we ended up in second; they had a drive-time penalty. The team that won – the No. 11 Lamborghini – is not a full-season competitor. So a few days, it was brought to my attention that we are the points leader.
So all of sudden, you start thinking about having a run at this championship and I think it’s a lot of fun. It keeps everybody really energized when you get the first race out of the way with a strong result, there’s some neat possibilities this season despite being new.
POW: What track are you most excited to get to?
BELL: Mosport (now Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) actually. I know that might sound like hot air being that we’re here in Toronto, but candidly, I haven’t raced there in three years. It’s one of the most big bravery tracks in the whole world with fast corners and an old school vibe, and a great group of Canadian fans.
I just looked at the calendar last night because I have a busy schedule between broadcasting and racing, and I have to project way in advance my travel and logistics to make it all happen. I looked at Mosport with a smile thinking I haven’t really been there for a few years now.
POW: It seems you’re a natural when it comes to being in the booth broadcasting. Did it come that way?
BELL: Not at all. I was pretty shy growing up, and I think I compensated by talking a lot. Now I feel very comfortable in the role. I never wanted to do television; it was never anything I really asked to do, or wanted to do, or dreamed of doing on any level. It’s just one of those things that luckily somebody asked and I said no. Then they asked again, and I said no.
Then they finally said, ‘You’re kind of an idiot for not even entertaining this’ and my wife then chimed in and said, ‘You’re not an idiot for not trying this’ so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s worked out and now I have a lot of fun doing it.
I work an amazing team at NBC, some truly great television professionals behind the scenes and of course the folks I work with on camera, including Canadian’s own Paul Tracy. We just have a blast now and I feel if we’re having fun, then the fans have fun watching.
POW: Now IndyCar just got done spring training out at Circuit of the Americas. What drivers are you keeping an eye on entering this season?
BELL: There’s so many, and I look to the rookies. We have some talent from Formula 1 with Marcus Ericsson. I just at the test in Austin yesterday. He looks to be settling right in. Felix Rosenqvist, Scott Dixon’s teammate, looks to be a pretty serious talent.
Then you have these young Indy Lights guys like Colton Herta who paced the field yesterday (Tuesday) of the 20 cars testing. He was fastest by like four tenths. He won (24 Hours of) Daytona in his first attempt with BMW, and he’s barely 19-years-old; he’s still 18. 18-years-old and wrestling an IndyCar – it’s one thing to just be in the hunt, but to be able to go out and demonstrate that type of pace is exciting for the future of our sport.
It puts all of the old guys – (Tony) Kanaan, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Helio) Castroneves – puts them on extra notice that they can’t just phone it in as there’s always someone coming over your shoulder.
POW: Now covering every array of motorsports, SportsPesa Racing Point F1 had their big unveil as part of the Canadian International Auto Show. What are your thoughts on how that went off?
BELL: I thought it was terrific. First of all, I think it’s very important to recognize the key role that Toronto Auto Show plays now in the North American shift of passion. I’ve been to some of the big auto shows in the United States, and nobody has this level of passion content if you will. There’s some cars that we will unveil on stage later today (at the Luxury SuperCar Forum) that are amazing. You have an F1 team in Canada; that’s never happened before.
So I think Toronto continues to elevate in that auto show world and is now one of the majors. If you’re into high performance automotive, you need to be here in Toronto.
POW: Sharing that car passion, what is a car that you dream of being in your garage that currently isn’t?
BELL: It’s hard because when you’re a car guy, you have ADD. You get easily magnetized to different cars. I look at this beautiful orange ZL1, 1969 Camaro with the orange dish wheels there and I think that’d be fun to have. I love the way those sound, the American muscle cars.
At the same time, there’s a 5000 horsepower, 12.-something liter quad-something exotic turbo (pictured right) that I can make an argument for wanting. But I did a drive a new Porsche 911 GT3 and the other day; I’ve drove one a few years ago, and that car continually, for daily high performance, that’s hard to beat.
POW: You’ve driven a lot of different cars and series in motorsports. But is there anything that remains on your bucket list?
BELL: I’ve raced at Indianapolis, Monaco, Daytona, Sebring – I’ve never driven Spa so that would be on the bucket list; they do have an endurance race there, but that’s about it. I feel reasonably fulfilled in terms of the bucket list.
POW: To someone who is just getting started in racing, what is one piece of advice that you would offer?
BELL: My advice would be is be fearless – not in the car, but in front of people because what stands between where you sit and the ultimate success you want is fear of engaging people to help support your dream. That was a fear that I had to overcome, and now helps me in broadcasting today. Racing is a little different; you need people and companies behind you if you’re just starting out. So you’ve got to exceptional behind the wheel, but don’t forget being fearless in front of people is a critical skill.
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