NEW YORK — On Sunday, Townsend Bell was driving on the famed Indianapolis 500 track at 242.4 miles an hour, securing a row-two position with his fourth-place finish. Today, he was sipping wine and chowing down on his signature pizza — white with mushrooms and truffle oil — at a California Pizza Kitchen in Manhattan.
“It was a very stressful weekend on the track and I’m on the rebound from that,” Bell said of the time-trial-style qualifying run. “It becomes a game of chicken between you and the track.” Although he won’t be able to match that speed this weekend during the 100th running of the famed race when 32 other drivers join him on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track, he believes he and his teammates from Andretti Autosport have a good shot at winning. “There are four other drivers on the team and we’ve been at or near the top of the speed charts all year,” he said.
Bell’s car is sponsored by California Pizza Kitchen — hence the pie — as well as men’s wear brand Robert Graham. Designer Robert Stock produced a special limited-edition shirt and hat for the race. The black-and-white fade-out shirt features a print on the reverse of vintage newspaper clippings from the race and Bell has replicated that print on the rear of his fire suit. “The fans are loving it,” he said. “They all want pictures, but they want me to turn around.”
Robert Graham has cosponsored the car for the past three years and has been involved in the sport for five years. Bill Sweedler, chief of Tengram Capital Partners which has a majority stake in the brand, is a race car driver in his spare time and has competed alongside Bell in several important races.
Stock said Robert Graham finds that many of its customers “are into fast cars,” so the tie-in is a natural. Only 400 of the $298 Indy 500 shirts will be produced along with several hundred of the $118 cap, which features the same vintage-inspired print on the interior.
Bell said he took time away from Indianapolis to “spread the world about the biggest auto race in the world” on its big birthday. This is Bell’s 10th time competing, so “I’ve done 10 percent of the races,” he said with a laugh. He attended his first race with his dad when he was 11 years old and “race day will be exactly 30 years to the day that I went and sat in the grandstand. And I always look up before I start to where I sat as a kid.”
Before he revs his engine, though, Bell and Mario Andretti, who won the race in 1969, will have a pizza dough throwing contest on the track on Thursday, he said. California Pizza Kitchen is flying in a 2,000-pound pizza oven for the event. And although Bell worked in the restaurant’s kitchen on his own pizza recipe, he’s not sure how he’ll fare against Andretti. “He’s Italian you know.”