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Bell completes long trek to midget crown

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In a journey that started in January in Auckland, New Zealand, and ended Saturday night at Brownstown Speedway, Christopher Bell charged to the POWRi midget world championship.

Bell had made a name for himself by winning the prestigious USAC National Midget championship and most of the premier events that led to that championship in 2013.

He ran the beginning races of the POWRi Midget World championship, driving for local car owners. He then flew home to run the Keith Kunz Motorsports Bullet/Toyota in the Chili Bowl, where he won a preliminary feature and raced his way to a third-place finish in the championship feature. Following the Chili Bowl, Bell returned to Australia to resume competition for the POWRi Midget World Championship. To no one’s surprise, he returned from down under with a commanding lead in the POWRi Midget World Championship points.

When Bell returned to the United States, he climbed back into the cockpit of the Keith Kunz Motorsport Bullet/Toyota and resumed his domination of the battle for the midget world championship.

Of the 10 races that made up the rest of the series, Bell won seven, finished second in one, and finished third in two.

Although the competition for the POWRi World Championship is complete, there is plenty of racing for Bell and the guys from Kelly Street. In fact, most of the high-dollar USAC National Midget series races are still ahead, including all of Indiana Midget Week, the Belleville Midget Nationals, and the Gold Crown Midget Nationals at Tri-City Speedway at Pontoon Beach, Ill.

While it would not be reasonable to expect the same kind of domination in USAC competition that the team has displayed, in POWRi, I’d say the odds are good that Bell will repeat as USAC National Midget champion.

Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby continue to prove that they are the best in the business in fielding winning midgets. While they build their own chassis, there really doesn’t appear to be much about them to ensure the kind of domination that they demonstrate. However, slight differences in design could make a big difference in their cars’ performance. Just about everything else seems to be “off the shelf.”

However, they are very meticulous about preparing their cars for competition. You will seldom, if ever, find them in a “thrash mode” getting prepared to go racing.

It’s pretty safe to say that there isn’t a better set-up man in the business than Kunz. I have often referred to Kunz as the Karl Kinser of midget racing. Older race fans will recall Kinser going onto the track during a red flag. He would pick up a handful of dirt and run it through his fingers. He would then drop it back onto the track, take a couple of wrenches out of his hip pocket, make a minor adjustment, and return to the pits. Other competitors would say, “You might as well write the check to Kinser now.” Kunz has this same ability to read a track and adjust to it.

Willoughby brings something even more rare to the party. He is a logistical wizard. Assembling all of the resources needed to keep a half-dozen cars ready for competition is a thankless undertaking. However, it is necessary if a team is to be always ready to win.

Both Kunz and Willoughby are great at working with drivers. Their drivers are generally young and are probably away from home for the first time. They will generally make their home with either Willoughby and Kunz. When they aren’t away racing some other car, they will spend a lot of time in the shop helping out and learning why the cars work the way that they do. They also develop a positive work ethic. Of course, they also avoid a lot of the temptations available to a young man away from home for the first time.

Of course, Willoughby and Kunz can’t take any 18-year-old, go-kart racer and turn him into a Bell or Kyle Larson. They select the best drivers that they can find and develop them into the best drivers in the business. After a couple of years with Kunz and Willoughby, Larson is on the way to becoming the biggest deal in NASCAR.

One thing is certain — a driver who is smart enough to drive for Willoughby and Kunz is also smart enough to know that they are aspiring to occupy probably the best midget seat in the land. They will do everything within the power to avoid blowing the opportunity.

Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic.He can be reached at 379-5632.

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