The 19-year-old Bell of nearby Norman, Okla., led all 25 laps—run without a caution—to beat runner-up Damon Gardner of Concord, Calif., by 1.5 seconds.
Third-finishing Michael Pickens, sixth-place Danny Stratton and seventh-finishing Andrew Felker also have strong ties to POWRi in what was another impressive performance by drivers from the organization.
Bell distinguished himself with his run in Keith Kunz Motorsports’ Toyota-powered Bullet, running low, then high and then everywhere on the quarter-mile track to weave through traffic in the 25-lap main event. It was a one-year anniversary celebration for Bell, who was given a tryout by the Kunz team at the Chili Bowl a year ago and rewarded with a full-season contract.
Bell took advantage of the expertise and equipment provided by Kunz an partner Keith Willoughby to win four POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget features and six Honda USAC National Dirt features and the USAC national championship.
Bell didn’t have a victory in either POWRi or USAC Midgets going into the 2013 season, but Kunz and Willoughby saw his potential in a couple of partial POWRi seasons. Bell didn’t make the A-main for the Chili Bowl championship a year ago, but 10th in one of two B mains was enough to secure him the job.
What a difference a single season in a midget has made for Bell, who has emerged as the next short-track superstar.
“A year ago, I was known as a micro racer and now I’m a midget racer,” Bell said. “It’s totally like a dream come true.”
Bell’s biggest triumph prior to last season was in the POWRi Speedway Motors 600cc Outlaw Micro Series’ 66 Mike Phillips Memorial in 2011 at Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion, where he won $10,000. There were more than 100 entries for it.
Bell’s victory Thursday puts him into the front rows of the A-feature for Saturday’s 55-lap championship race, the most prestigious in midget racing.
“I’m excited for it,” he said. “If I’m as good as we were tonight, we have a shot.”
Pickens of Auckland, New Zealand, also will be in the A feature Saturday. He’s been a frequent short-term guest in POWRi in recent seasons and holds the series’ record for five straight wins. Pickens has eight victories in 22 career starts in POWRi.
“I’m happy to be locked in (to the Saturday) feature,” Pickens said.
Pickens held off a charging Kevin Swindell, who has won four straight Chili Bowl championships, in the closing laps. Swindell finished fourth.
.”We were lucky enough to have enough in the tank to shake him off,” Pickens said.
Stratton, originally from Riverside, Calif., and living in Brownsburg, Ind., has eight POWRi Midget victories. He started ninth in the 24-car field.
Felker, the 2012 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget champion, started eighth.
“We were shuffled back at the start and the last five to ten laps, we picked off two or three cars,” he said. “We had a good car at the end and just ran out of laps. We’ll be in the fourth row in the B (main Saturday). We made the A main a year ago from farther back (seventh row) than that and making the main and having a good run is definitely do-able.
“I’m looking forward to getting after it.”
Several other drivers with POWRi links failed to make the A-feature Thursday.
In the first B main, Tyler Robbins of Collinsville, Ill., finished ninth and in the second B main, Davey Ray of Indianapolis was seventh, Mike Hess of Petersburg, Ill., was 12th and Chet Gehrke of Broken Arrow, Okla., was 16th.
The final qualifying round is tonight (Friday).
For more information, go to www.powri.com.