In the 11 previous annual editions of the Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes on Speed51.com, number one picks have come from all different types of pavement short track racing. Past number one picks have been stars in the NASCAR Touring and development series, standouts in the Pro and Super Late Model ranks and more top-level talents from the hard-top racing facilities around North America.
But in 2015, a panel of nearly 100 motorsports industry insiders submitted ballots for the Short Track Draft and have selected a driver who is known just as much for, if not more so, his accomplishments on dirt rather than on pavement.
In record-setting fashion, the number-one pick in the 2015 Speed51.com Short Track Draft is dirt Sprint Car standout and budding pavement Super Late Model talent Christopher Bell of Norman, Oklahoma.
Bell received a Short Track Draft record 26 first-place votes from the panel of voters, which included NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, team managers and spotters, media members from the short track and national series levels and industry experts from both dirt and asphalt disciplines.
The 20-year-old driver with resume highlights such as a USAC National Midget Championship and wins in Winged and Non-Winged Sprint cars on dirt as well as prestigious pavement Super Late Model victories such as the Rattler 250 (Opp, AL) and the Bruce Gowland Memorial (New Smyrna, FL), was admittedly surprised with the news of yet another accomplishment – being the top pick in the 2015 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes on Speed51.com.
“That’s pretty freakin’ cool,” said Bell Thursday morning upon hearing his name as the top Draft pick. “That definitely catches me off guard. I’ve been keeping up with the “War Room” video discussions and I haven’t been talked about very much, so I didn’t expect to be the number-one pick just because my background was so much different. I’m new to the pavement scene, so this definitely caught me off guard.”
Bell’s accomplishments in 2014 certainly aided his position in this year’s Draft. After being selected as the number-24 Draft pick last season, Bell racked up an astonishing 27 feature victories in 108 main events between dirt and pavement. He made his initial impact on the pavement by winning the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South event at Orange County Speedway (NC) and the driver’s stock has risen substantially since, even if the 20-year-old is not one to always look for the spotlight.
“It’s pretty cool to see that people are recognizing me. I’ve always been one that’s flown under the radar. I’ve been teammates with Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu now for a couple years. Every time I go to the racetrack, everybody wants their autographs and nobody even knows who I am.
“I’ve always not really enjoyed attention. I hate being the center of attention, but I love winning races. It’s cool that people are realizing that I’m able to win races. I’m just really thankful for the opportunities that I’ve gotten with Toyota Racing Development, Kyle Busch Motorsports and Keith Kunz Motorsports.”
Bell has followed the line set forth by Kyle Larson, who turned a stellar young dirt career into stardom in the pavement stock car world. Like Larson, who won in his first-ever stock car feature, Bell picked up the asphalt game quickly and hasn’t looked back since.
“I’m just thrilled with how it’s gone. That’s definitely a credit to Kyle Busch Motorsports. I learned a long time ago as a kid that you’re only as good as the race car underneath you. It’s so important to get in good equipment and thankfully I’ve been given that opportunity.”
Bell’s pavement team owner Kyle Busch is one of the Speed51.com Short Track Draft voters and has a passion for short track racing. He noticed Bell’s talent early on and tabbed the driver to hone his stock car talents behind the wheel of Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment.
After two initial feet-wetting experiences in the KBM NASCAR Late Model Stock Car at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway, Bell transitioned to the KBM Pro and Super Late Model side of the shop and won the PASS event at Orange County, ran strong in the PASS North-South Shootout at Caraway (NC) and finished just outside the top-five in the Pro Late Model Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Then, the calendar flipped to 2015 and Bell picked up right where he left off. He won the Rattler 250 Southern Super Series event at South Alabama Speedway in March, just weeks after closing out the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna (FL) with a win in the Gowland Memorial in February.
“I started off on pavement last year with KBM in a Late Model Stock Car and I didn’t run very good at Hickory the first two times I ran it, but ever since I’ve gotten in their Super Late Model, I think the worst I’ve finished is second or third. I ran sixth in the Snowflake 100 with the Pro Late Model too. I’m thrilled to have those kinds of opportunities and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to capitalize on them.”
This weekend, Bell will be back on dirt, competing with Keith Kunz Motorsports in a series of World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series events. He will be racing against the top Sprint Car talents in the country. Whenever he straps into his dirt Midget at the Chili Bowl, his Sprint Car in WoO events or his pavement Super Late Model for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Bell is out to prove that he belongs in the discussion of the top drivers at each track.
“Whenever we were making our schedule for this year, I told (KBM) I didn’t want to go to races that don’t matter. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what I learned on the dirt stuff. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to race against the best. I want to go to the hardest races and race against the best people and the best race cars.”
That mindset earned Christopher Bell victories in some of the most prolific short track events on both dirt and pavement over the past few seasons. Now, it has earned him the number-one pick in the 2015 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes on Speed51.com.
Selections 2-10 will be announced Friday on Speed51.com at 9am and 11-25 at 5pm that same day, with the remainder of the top-51 Draft picks and the “Best of the Rest” selections coming next week.
– By Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director – Twitter: @MattKentfield
– Photo credits: Speed51.com