Kelly’s Ju­nior high

The great Dale Earn­hardt Jr pre­dicts big things, writes STEPHEN OT­T­LEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

MAR­COS Ambrose’s suc­cess in Amer­ica’s Nascar scene has opened doors for fu­ture Aus­tralian rac­ers.

But one Aussie is al­ready in the US and on his way to em­u­lat­ing Ambrose’s achieve­ments.

Owen Kelly gave up a drive with Ford Per­for­mance Rac­ing at this year’s Phillip Is­land 500 and Bathurst 1000 to chase his dream.

He was given the chance to drive for one of the world’s big­gest rac­ing stars, Dale Earn­hardt Jr, and he grabbed it.

Kelly, 31, was con­sid­ered one of the best fringe play­ers in V8 Su­per­cars but no mat­ter how hard he tried he couldn’t earn a full­time drive. And that’s what Earn­hardt was of­fer­ing.

Kelly is now based in North Carolina, the heart of Nascar coun­try. He lives in a town­house on Earn­hardt’s prop­erty and spends his days pre­par­ing his Late Model stock car for week­end rac­ing.

Rac­ing at the tiny Mo­tor Mile Speed­way may not be glam­orous but Kelly couldn’t be hap­pier.

‘‘I’m hav­ing a great time,’’ he says. ‘‘I race ev­ery week­end and work on the car ev­ery day. You can’t get bet­ter than that.’’

And he has im­pressed his new boss with his ef­forts on and off the race­track.

‘‘Owen has been a great ad­di­tion to this pro­gram,’’ Earn­hardt says. ‘‘When I met him, I could in­stantly see his am­bi­tion to drive th­ese race cars, and he’s ob­vi­ously re­ally tal­ented. I was happy to bring him here to JR Mo­tor­sports, and he’s done an ex­cel­lent job so far.

‘‘It takes a while to get ac­cli­ma­tised to driv­ing th­ese cars, but he has picked up on it rather quickly.’’

That’s high praise from the most pop­u­lar driver in the US, but Kelly needs more than just words to reach his ul­ti­mate goal.

He wants to drive the JR Motorsport Na­tion­wide Se­ries en­try so he needs to get some big re­sults on the track.

‘‘We’ve run about 12 races and have had a cou­ple of top five fin­ishes al­ready,’’ Kelly says.

The man best placed to as­sess his chances of mak­ing the big time is Jamey Caudill, JR Motorsport’s Late Model team man­ager and a racer him­self.

‘‘Owen def­i­nitely has the drive and abil­ity to make it to that next level,’’ Caudill says.

On track: (above) Owen Kelly in ac­tion and (left) track­side in Vir­ginia.

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