Winston Kelley Speed Weeks Memories
As I prepare to finish packing and head for Speed Weeks 2012, this will be my first Speed Weeks I am attending since my dear and beloved Mom, Buncy Kelley, passed last September. So what is the relevance of Mom’s presence and passing and the Daytona 500 you would rightfully ask? In addition to Mom being my biggest supporter and fan, she played a very critical role in the very first Daytona 500 I attended way back in 1964 – which was also my very first race, period! My father, Earl Kelley, worked for the Charlotte Motor Speedway at the time and was a part of the public address announcing team at Daytona so he was in Daytona the better part of two weeks that February. My parents agreed to take my older brother Clif and me out of school for the second week so we could experience this amazing thing called NASCAR. Mom got with our teachers and got all our homework and various assignments for the following week and off to Daytona we went.
We spent the bulk of the week at the motel, specifically which one I do not recall. We got to go to track several days including to watch the two 100 mile qualifying races, the predecessor races to today’s Gatorade Duels, on Thursday and the Daytona 500 on Sunday. As a six year old, I don’t remember all the details of the week – but a few are etched in my mind, some a bit fuzzier than others perhaps the older I get. I recall vividly every day having to spend the bulk of the morning and some afternoons doing school work. I wouldn’t call Mom a taskmaster, but it was abundantly clear if we were going to enjoy any of what Daytona Beach had to offer, it WOULD be after school work was done. Among my Mom’s many wonderful traits was being able to achieve a balance in work (in this case schoolwork) and fun. As a workaholic with two jobs (both of which I thoroughly enjoy), I must admit that unfortunately isn’t one of her traits I inherited. But Mom, I am trying to get a little better – I promise.
Among the things I recall most about watching the cars going around Daytona International Speedway were the two most brightly colored cars – NASCAR Hall of Fame inaugural inductee Richard Petty’s bright blue Plymouth and Hall of Fame nominee Fireball Roberts’ lavender Ford. So those were the ones I followed the most. Hey, if ladies can pull for the cute drivers it should be understandable that kids pull for the brightest cars. Just ask Dupont and M&Ms if there is a connection. I remember Richard running up front and leading a lot both during the qualifying race and the Daytona 500. I seem to recall Richard running out of gas close to the end of the qualifying race he was in on Thursday and don’t recall where Fireball finished. I also remember both Fireball and Richard running up front much of the 500. Richard of course went on to dominate and win the first of his record 7 Daytona 500 victories in that electric “Petty blue” Plymouth and with 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, Dale Inman, calling the shots in the pits and his brother Maurice preparing that stout hemi engine, someone that experienced industry experts consider a lock for a future Hall of Fame class in his own right.
The story Mom used to love to tell people whenever she was involved in any discussion about racing and how I became interested is what transpired during my Dad’s post race interview in the press box with Richard. While I recall meeting Richard, I don’t recall all the details but Mom insists that during the interview I kept tugging on Richard’s uniform. Finally, he relented and bent over and looked down in my direction. According to Mom, my next statement, which could be heard over the loud speaker in the press box, was “I was pulling for Fireball until he went out, then I started pulling for you so I’m glad you won.” You can see why I don’t recall this – probably blocking it out of my memory from embarrassment. And speaking of embarrassment, can you imagine how my parents felt at that time. Fortunately for all of us, Richard was the consummate professional we all know him to be and he just smiled, patted me on the head and thanked me for being a fan. I’ve often told people, I became a Richard Petty fan that day because he won the first race I ever attended and I was lucky enough to meet him afterwards. But I stayed a Richard Petty fan all these years because of how he treats everyone as important and special. Just like that six year old kid in 1964.
This helps explain why I tell people how blessed I am to work at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Who would have thought over 40 years later I’d be able to work with these same men, and many other of my childhood heroes, and be a small part of the team to develop a shrine to honor their accomplishments in NASCAR?
And as I head down to Daytona some 48 years after my first race for my 24th consecutive Speed Weeks with the Motor Racing Network radio team and for activities and events representing the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and for my 26th Daytona 500 (I also attended the 1984 Daytona 500 with some college buddies…..perhaps for another blog), I go with a bit of a heavy heart knowing this will be the first one I’ll broadcast that Mom won’t be tuned in to her radio. But knowing that my number one supporter and fan will be looking down on me and knowing that it is because of her efforts in 1964 that began my love affair with NASCAR along with her future support that paved the way for me to be a small part of this wonderful sport. Thank you Mom. I miss you tremendously – and love and appreciate you and all you did for me more than I can ever say.