TULSA, OK — After several years of near-misses and close calls, Christopher Bell finally checked a win in the Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions off his to-do list at Tulsa Expo Raceway Tuesday night.
Bell started seventh, but roared through the field to third by the halfway point and was able to capitalize on a lap-11 restart, blasting past polesitter and race-long leader Sam Hafertepe Jr. in the third turn.
From there, Bell absolutely set sail, opening up a 4.089-second margin of victory by the time the twin checkers waved at the end of the 20-lap all-star event.
Tuesday night’s thrilling performance was Bell’s first victory in his seventh appearance in the annual invitation-only event, featuring the best-of-the-best drivers that the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals has to offer.
“Man, this one’s pretty sweet,” said Bell of his victory. “This Race of Champions has eluded me for a long time, and I’ve just had great race cars to drive … between driving for Keith (Kunz) and Pete (Willoughby) and now driving for Chad (Boat). These (Tucker-Boat Motorsports) cars are just really, really good. Aaron (Reutzel) proved that last night in his prelim night. So I’m just lucky to be able to drive for such a great group of people.
“Chad and Corey both spend so much time preparing these race cars; their attention to detail is immaculate and it really shows.”
Bell struggled somewhat at the beginning of the 20-lapper, when he was mired back in traffic, but once he broke free into clean track he was quickly able to close in on Hafertepe and eventually pounce.
“It just took a little bit to get single file there,” noted Bell. “When we started, the track was really equal from bottom to top … and obviously we’re not racing any slouches out there, so nobody was really missing their marks. It just took a little bit to get them strung out, and once I did and could start picking them off, I knew I was pretty good.
“I had a great restart where a couple of guys got bottled up and I was able to squeak by,” Bell added. “That was key there, and then I was just able to get the run down the back on Hafertepe and shoot underneath.”
Rico Abreu made a last-lap pass of Hafertepe – who led the first 11 laps – to finish second, with Kyle Larson coming in fourth, just behind the four-time Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Car Series national champion.
Unlike Larson, who had another race to run on Tuesday night, Bell doesn’t run his qualifying night until Thursday. That meant that he had a little more leeway to push the envelope compared to his rival.
“Thankfully we race on Thursday, so I basically threw caution to the wind,” Bell relayed. “I knew if we crashed, we could fix it by Thursday, so I wasn’t holding anything back right there. I’m just glad we finally got it. This is one that I’ve wanted for a while and we did it tonight.”
C.J. Leary completed the top five, followed by Tyler Courtney, Justin Grant, defending VIROC winner Tanner Thorson, Daryn Pittman and Zach Daum.