Back in 2007, then reigning V8 Supercars Champion Rick Kelly went seriously close to heading to the US and pursuing his NASCAR dream. Here’s the full story.
No matter where you are at in your motorsport career, you often think about what’s next.
Are you going to stay in Australia with your category? Are you going to go to Europe and try F1? Go to America, or Le Mans. What’s your aim?
For me, my aim was always to be successful in V8 Supercars. In 2006 I was lucky enough to win the V8 Supercars title, and I had some success with great teams at Bathurst, so I wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer as far as motorsport was concerned.
I’ve always been a huge fan of America. I love travelling there, every chance I get I will jump on a plane and head over.
For me, the obvious choice from a career standpoint outside of Australia was to go and have a look at America’s racing scene, obviously NASCAR, and what would be possible.
So midway through 2007 I set up a lot of meetings with some fantastic NASCAR teams over there, and began exploring the opportunities to make the switch, a lot like Marcos Ambrose did at the end of 2005.
It was really an interesting one. I had achieved a little bit in Australia at that time, and I when I visited the USA in 2007 I was still leading that year’s V8 Supercars championship.
One of the teams I met with thought that V8 Supercars was an off-road rally category, and one of the others had never really heard of it! It became clear pretty quickly that what we were doing back here meant nothing to those guys whatsoever.
The Motorsport Food Chain
For me to be able to go over there, even at that point of my career, I would have had to drop everything I had worked for my entire career in Australia, start basically at the bottom of the American food chain, and work my way up.
It would have been very difficult, especially when you consider the amount of American talent out there doing the exact same thing.
I guess what it really showed me was what a fantastic job Marcos had done. He did exactly that, he dropped what he achieved and what he had in front of him in Australia, which was a career full of fantastic results, to risk everything and go and start again in America.
It was a massively ballsy move, and he made it work, having fantastic careers in Australia and in America. What he managed to achieve is what no Australian has achieved before, and frankly it would be very hard to duplicate in the future.
I’d still love the chance to go and maybe do a road course race, obviously in the Sprint Cup would be a tall order, but even in the Xfinity Series would be a great experience
It’s not something that I’m putting a lot of effort into now, obviously we’ve got a massive task in front of us now to get where we want to get with our own team, so I haven’t really looked at anything overseas, of course outside of what Nissan has offered me.
But once we get settled down, and there is the opportunity, I’d still love to do it.
The next best thing
Taking the Jack Daniel’s V8 Supercar to the Calder Park Thunderdome was really really exciting, and the next best thing we could locally in Australia.
The track obviously has not been used so much, or maintained to racing standards in recent years. Because it was a media stunt, we didn’t have a chance to set the car up for the track, or tune it.
The session was more about seeing what it was like, to experience it, and capture some good GoPro vision – which you can see at the bottom of this story.
We did that, but when you do three or four laps around that place in a V8 Supercar, you just want to go faster and faster, and set the car up to do that. It would be great to see exactly what sort of pace you can get out of it.
However, the Altima is simply not designed to do that. I’m sure you could set it up to a certain extent. Looking at NASCAR from afar, it seems like a black art to get the most out of their cars – and they are purpose designed for the task.
The banking is pretty steep around the Thunderdome, so it was a real thrill to just stand on it and experience it, let alone drive a car around it.
To be honest, with my experience in oval racing being absolutely zero, it would have taken a lot of learning to figure out exactly what it takes to get the car around there quickly, and what it’s capable of.
Even with the pace we were doing, we were bottoming the car out pretty bad, and it provided very different forces to what we’re used to.
I think the great shame about the Thunderdome is that it was ahead of its time, with the spotlight Marcos has shone on that particular discipline, things might be very different in the current day if it were still operating.