By the time you are reading this, 36-year-old Townsend Bell of San Francisco, who will start fourth in today’s Indianapolis 500 in a car fielded by Henderson’s Sam Schmidt, probably will have gotten a good night’s sleep — provided there wasn’t a party going on down the hall at his hotel in downtown Indianapolis, like the night before he qualified.
The military bomb signaling that the track gates are open will have shattered the early-morning calm. The spectacle of marching bands and the parade of princesses and former Indy winners will have taken place, and guys in the massive grandstands who have no business taking off their shirts will have done so, and will have shouted suggestive comments to Miss Kokomo or Bobby Unser or both.
By that time, Townsend Bell will have shaken hands and posed for photos with hundreds of people representing his sponsor, Herbalife. He won’t remember their names or faces like they will his. Then his garage will be cleared of the hangers-on and ABC’s Jack Arute and even the people who have business there, such as the engineers and mechanics on the No. 99 car. That will leave Bell and his wife, the actress Heather Campbell, who once played “Photo Store Sheila” on “Seinfeld,” to have a quiet moment.
Then they will step out into the cacophony of Gasoline Alley and a sun-baked crowd of more than 300,000, and any private thoughts shared between husband and wife in the solitude of the garage will have been pushed to the back of the starting grid. Florence Henderson will sing, Jim Nabors will sing and then Bell will be strapped into the No. 99, snug as a bug in a 226.877 mph rug.
This is when he will allow himself to appreciate the enormity of the moment — and the enormity of the grandstands, teeming with people smelling of fried chicken and beer.
“I try to take it all in,” said Bell, whose best finish in four Indy starts was fourth in 2009. “There’s hardly anybody there all month and then on race day, it’s like the flowers are blooming. I try to absorb everything and then we just get ready to go.
“We’re in fuel position eight … lean fuel … saving fuel on the warm-up laps … one lap to go … fuel position one … heart rate rising … downshift … get into start gear … start lining up on the back straightaway … ”
The pace will quicken, pole-sitter Alex Tagliani, directly in front of Bell, will bring down the field in its rows of three, and, if all goes right …
The green flag will fall. They will be racing at Indy.
There will be frenzied jockeying for position and enough turbulence to drop an elephant and enough methanol fumes to drop three elephants and Charlie Sheen. There may or may not be a crash, with “may” being the greater possibility.
“It’s like … primal,” Bell said, searching for the right word to describe the start at Indianapolis. “You’ve got 33 racers with a $3 million carrot dangling out there and the best trophy in sports. Everybody is a little edgy.”
If the racing gods smile upon him, Townsend Bell will have safely negotiated Turn 1, with only 799 left turns to go.
■ The 51s are 23-5 in May after Saturday night’s 14-8 win over Tacoma at Cashman Field, practically guaranteeing the next time the team offers postgame fireworks there will be a big crowd.
■ Las Vegas phenom Bryce Harper is hitting .325 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs for the Class A Hagerstown Suns. Given the brutal injuries suffered by Buster Posey in San Francisco this week, it seems that moving a good-hitting catcher out from behind the plate isn’t such a bad idea after all.
■ Butler was the only team in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game that had a perfect classroom score. The team Butler lost to, Connecticut, was docked two scholarships and told to improve its academic progress rate or it would face further penalties.
■ The United Football League has announced the Omaha Nighthawks will play in new TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha, Neb., and that in addition to the Nighthawks, the stadium “is the proud home of the College World Series.” In a related development, the Monster Truck Jam Series said Cowboys Stadium also will host some NFL games this year, if the lockout is lifted.
■ A few weeks ago at his golf tournament at Shadow Creek, Michael Jordan said if he had to pick one guy as a 2-on-2 partner for all of his and Oprah Winfrey’s money, it would be Scottie Pippen. That was before Pippen said LeBron James was a better all-around player than Jordan. Now Jordan is leaning toward Will Perdue.
■ Donald Trump was scheduled to drive the Indy 500 pace car before being replaced by A.J. Foyt. National syndicated radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge is scheduled to drive the pace car at the Coke Zero NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona on July 2. This is further proof that IndyCar and NASCAR are like apples and oranges — and why Harry Gant should stand by, just in case.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.