The colossal battle for the Indy Lights crown was waged between two young men in 2001 as Dorricott Racing’s Townsend Bell and PacWest Racing’s Dan Wheldon (pictured above leading Bell) traded wins and podiums across 12 fiercely contested rounds.
Bell would emerge with the upper hand, earning the championship on the strength of a 50-percent victory rate; Wheldon placed second after securing two wins and seven trips to the rostrum, and if you’re a fan of history, the Bell vs Wheldon story in American junior open-wheel racing isn’t finished.
Over the April 3-5 season opener at Road Atlanta for the Skip Barber Formula Race Series, it was Bell vs Wheldon once again, but now with 19-year-old Jaxon Bell pitted against 14-year-old Sebastian Wheldon as their sons made their car racing debuts at the rolling Georgian road course.
Long before they were born, the late Wheldon, who went on to win the 2005 IndyCar Series championship and a pair of Indianapolis 500s, and Bell, who had a distinguished career spanning CART, the Indy Racing League and IndyCar, finished the 2001 Indy Lights race at Road Atlanta with Wheldon standing on the top step and Bell slotted into second.
Fast forward to 2023, and it was Bell’s turn to shine as Jaxon won Rounds 1 and 2 with Wheldon chasing hard as Sebastian took second in both races. It was a meaningful outcome for both second-generation drivers as Wheldon used all that he’s learned in karting and applied it with great success in his first event driving a wings-and-slicks junior open-wheel car. The same was true for Bell who, despite being older than Wheldon, has much less racing experience and has spent most of his young life training on simulators.
Together at the event, Susie Wheldon and Townsend and Heather Bell marveled at what their kids achieved.
“It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is wild!’ It was really a full-circle moment,” Wheldon told RACER. “This is a big step for Sebastian, and we’ve had amazing help from Andretti Autosport for him on (younger brother) Oliver with the partnership with Gainbridge. It speaks to the incredible community that motor racing is and how those relationships just keep carrying on. People do care and they keep really cheering on the boys, for sure. I’m just so grateful to have that support and for them to be able to chase their dream and fulfill their dream of carrying on Dan’s legacy.”
The younger Bell graduated high school in Southern California, loaded his belongings into his car and drove to the East Coast where he found an entry-level job on a NASCAR Truck Series team. He’s recently found a new opportunity coaching at a circuit through the use of simulators and finds himself in the lead of the Skip Barber championship. Like the Wheldon brothers, Bell has speed in his DNA.
“It wouldn’t be an understatement to say Jaxon is a natural,” his father said. “He has never done a kart race in his life and this was his his fourth car race; he finished on the podium at COTA at the end of last year and really opened my eyes to just how remarkably talented he appears to be for next to no experience.
“I think it speaks volumes to how relevant sim racing is and how somebody without a lot of experience can get proficient on sim racing. And it can really translate to the real thing. I think it’s also a nice testament to Skip Barber in their system that it’s never too late; even if you didn’t start karting from a young age, you can come into the program and if you’ve got some ability and work hard, the platform is there for you to demonstrate that.
“The feeling in Road Atlanta was sheer joy. Watching both boys live out their dreams knowing that Dan and I were at that track trying to destroy each other decades ago is just fantastic.”