If you go out to Champion Speedway for the season opener this Saturday night, keep your eyes peeled for the No. 11 Legends car.
The driver is a Carson High School freshman named Mackena Bell, already a veteran racer at the tender age of 14. Mackena started racing four years ago at Champion, driving a Box Stock Outlaw Kart on a dirt track in the infield. Since then her progress has been remarkable. A short list of her accomplishments to date include:
The Nevada Outlaw Kart Box Stock Championship in 2002; third place in the 125cc Outlaw Kart class in the QRC Cup series in both 2003 and 2004; and second place in points in the 2004-2005 Outlaw series in Red Bluff in the Intermediate Open class, which garnered her Rookie of the Year honors as well. She had her first outing on asphalt last summer when she turned 14 and became eligible to drive in the Legends class, competing in three races at Champion Speedway and winning the Ladies' Dash for Cash in the season finale after qualifying second fastest for the race.
Mackena's parents, Kelly and Shannon Bell, are solidly behind her racing career, providing good equipment and encouragement. They also have a rule that if the grades aren't good, the racing stops. So far that hasn't been an issue.
They have also invested in additional training, taking Mackena to Wally Pankratz's Midget school in San Bernardino in March. Pankratz, a long-time competitor in Midgets, told the Bells that Mackena definitely has the talent to make it in racing. That became clear when Kelly, a former racer himself, got to take some hot laps in the Midget. He came up about a second and a half short of Mackena's times, driving as hard as he could.
After his session he gave Mackena a huge hug, telling her mother, "I didn't realize just how good she was!" Mackena is also being considered for the prestigious Lyn St. James School in Phoenix, a training ground for budding female racers who hope to make it to the top levels in the sport. Mackena is hopeful of getting an invitation in October.
This season she plans to concentrate on the Legend division at Champion, running all the events that don't conflict with the 5-race QRC Cup series, in which she plans to campaign in the Open Outlaw class. In practice at Champion she has been turning consistent laps in the 14.9 second bracket, with a few laps in the 14.8s. That's going to put her at the front end of the qualifying order Saturday night.
She feels that Denny Hadler Jr. and "Smilin" Jack Randall are the two drivers she has to beat this season. She will be one of five females regularly competing in the Legends division, along with Katie Chrome, Rebecca Parmelee, Charlene Baron, and Michelle Argensinger (a fellow Outlaw Kart graduate).
Dad Kelly hopes that Champion continues to operate for another couple of seasons, since the track is only a mile or so from home. After towing to Red Bluff on a regular basis, it's nice to have a short trip to the track. They are also considering running some races at Las Vegas after Champion's 2005 season is over.
Mackena, like all racers, has to have sponsors to pay the bills, and she is grateful to K. Bell Tile and Marble, Benny's Auto Painting, Joe the Chromer, J. Millett Construction, Olson Heating & Air, Vital Signs, and Grandpa Mayfield for making it possible to race. She also has special thanks to Ken Barrette, Ron Copeland, and Daryl "Papa" Schaar, who provided the gorgeous paint job on her car and helmet. But her biggest thanks go to her dad, Kelly, who has prepared her karts and now the Legend car, spending literally thousands of hours to give her the best equipment she can have.
So if you go to Champion this Saturday night, keep an eye on the young lady in the No. 11 Legends car. And when she wins the Indy 500 a few years hence, you can say, "I knew her when."