SBJ/May 16-22, 2011/People and Pop Culture
Out of the Office
Published May 16, 2011, Page 30
Winston Kelley still laughs when he meets someone and they ask, "You aren't any kin to that guy on the radio are you?"
"I have to tell them, 'Yes, I know that guy,'" Kelley said.
The truth is: Kelley is that guy.
Kelley has been a radio reporter covering NASCAR races for the Motor Racing Network since the late 1980s. While always maintaining a separate career, he spends 17 weekends a year as a pit road reporter covering more than 40 races across the NASCAR Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series. The job comes with some compensation, but that's not why Kelley does it.
"This was my hobby," he said. "It was my golf game. It was my family. I liked the sport and the more I was around it, the more I liked the people."
After graduating from North Carolina State in 1979, Kelley took a job at the Charlotte-based energy company Duke Power as a budget analyst. At the same time, he also approached the Universal Racing Network to see if he could do anything for it. The company hired him to work about 10 races a year as a statistician, for which it covered his hotel room and paid him $50 a weekend.
"I was losing money, but I did it because I was interested in the sport," said Kelley, whose father ran an auto parts store that sold parts to race teams, and was Charlotte Motor Speedway's first PR director from 1959 to 1964.
In 1987, Kelley contacted Motor Racing Network, which was broadcasting every race at the time, to see if it had any opportunities. The company hired him as a production assistant and offered to give him an on-air tryout. He took a broadcasting course and hired a speech pathologist to prepare for the audition.
He studied his peers closely to learn how to call a race, and in 1988 he got his chance when bad weather kept the scheduled pit reporter from getting to a race. Kelley held his own and earned himself more and more time on the radio with each broadcast.
Throughout his years as a weekend reporter, Kelley continued to work for Duke Power. He would take Fridays off to travel to races and a week of vacation every February to work Daytona Speedweeks. But moonlighting on the radio never slowed his rise at Duke, where he eventually became vice president of business and government relations.
In 2006, he was named executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And though he now works in the business full time, Kelley has kept up his weekend "golf game" with Motor Racing Network.
The job has given him a front-row seat for some memorable moments. He was in the middle of interviewing Dale Earnhardt after the NASCAR legend won the 1995 Goody's 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway when Rusty Wallace got out of his car and launched a water bottle at Earnhardt. He also was the first to interview Earnhardt after a cut tire on the final lap cost him the 1990 Daytona 500.
Being at the center of moments like those is a big reason why Kelley still travels around the country to be on the radio, and he has no plans to put down his microphone any time soon.
"As long as my legs hold up on pit road, and as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll keep doing it," he said.