Kelly’s Junior high
The great Dale Earnhardt Jr predicts big things, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
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.