Tuesday, April 16, 2024

You could get away with accusing him of racin’ism

People – August 2007

You could get away with accusing him of racin’ism
By Chris Roush

On weekends, Winston Kelley chats with NASCAR crew chiefs, drivers and mechanics as pit commentator for Motor Racing Network. But that’s not all he does these days. As executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, slated to open in Charlotte in 2010, he’s involved in planning the building. He works with the sales-and-marketing manager to identify companies that might buy sponsorships. And he visits other museums to figure out how to operate the 130,000-square-foot NASCAR complex.

Altogether, Kelley, 50, says he puts in between 60 to 80 hours a week. “I’ve always been a workaholic. I never dreaded going to work.” Hired last year by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, he has a five-person staff. More than $100 million of the $155 million project comes from a local hotel-occupancy tax. Much of the rest is from city and state funds. The attraction is expected to produce an annual economic boost of $62 million. Some will come from its 748 jobs; the rest, from visitor spending on hotels, restaurants and other services.

Racing has been a big part of Kelley’s life. He was born in Concord, and his father was public-relations director of Charlotte Motor Speedway from 1959 to 1964. His parents took him to his first Daytona 500 when he was 7. A photo of Richard Petty giving the 9-year-old Kelley an autograph hangs on his office wall.

After graduating from N.C. State University in 1979 with a major in business management and economics, he went to work for Duke Power. He held 13 jobs there and was vice president of economic and business development when he left. He represented the company on the team that persuaded Daytona Beach, Fla.-based NASCAR to put the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, rather than in Atlanta, Kansas City, Richmond, Va., or its hometown.

For most of the past two decades, Kelley has held a side job as a racing commentator. He joined the Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcasting team in 1988 and also has worked as an announcer at North Wilkesboro Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. From 2001 to 2004, he was a reporter for NASCAR This Morning on Fox Sports. Though he says the decision to leave Duke Energy was tough, racing was in his blood. “This was the opportunity to be part of building something from the ground up and to acknowledge and honor the sport I grew up around.”

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