Rick Kelly: A V8 Supercar Champion in the making Rick Kelly is a rare and raw talent - every sport has them. The toughest part for young elite athletes is maintaining their composure, keeping perspective and digesting as much as they can, as ...
Rick Kelly: A V8 Supercar Champion in the making
Rick Kelly is a rare and raw talent - every sport has them. The toughest part for young elite athletes is maintaining their composure, keeping perspective and digesting as much as they can, as quickly as they can.
Renowned rugby league coach Wayne Bennett believes these characteristics are vital in any young sportsman. Youngsters under Bennett's wing learn immediately that there is no room for poor attitude or big ego.
Kelly is a blessed young athlete, the envy of most 21-year-olds. He is living out a dream of having already conquered the peak of Bathurst, not to mention driving a V8 Supercar at an age when most are happy to own a car at all.
While it's reasonable to suggest some pieces have fallen into place nicely in the fledgling career of Kelly, he has an ability recognised all the way down pit lane. After all you don't run third in the most competitive touring car championship in the world without it, not to mention winning Bathurst.
After seven rounds Kelly is just 15 points behind series leader Jason Bright and 10 points behind second-placed Steven Richards. Both of those drivers are vastly more experienced and can relate to young Kelly's steep learning curve.
This is where attitude comes in. A young Michael Voss, Ricky Ponting or Brad Fittler were destined for greatness and had the heads to get there. The same is being said of Kelly who has a calm demeanor and is smart enough not to get ahead of himself.
Last Sunday in Winton Kelly made an error of judgment when he failed to 'block' Cameron McConville from passing him on the penultimate corner. It cost him the race. Now there's one thing certain -- he won't do it again.
And he showed soon after he wasn't too happy about it. Kelly wears his heart on his sleeve in a sport where aggression and emotion go hand in hand. A V8 racetrack is more like a battlefield -- every man for themselves in combat.
So, for a 21-year-old to be doing so well against men who have been in the business for many years, shows the ability of this kid. It's also evident in his 'elder' brother Todd who at 23 seems like a seasoned veteran of pit lane.
"To me it's not so much about age," Rick Kelly says.
"I'm just very lucky to have the chance to be in the championship and while I'm there I will do absolutely everything in my power to be successful. All of these drivers are there based on their ability, me included."
Kelly's gripping breakthrough at Mount Panorama last year made him the youngest driver in history to win the great race at a place where the majority of drivers in the rich history of Australian motorsport have failed.
In doing so he joined the likes of Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Larry Perkins, Mark Skaife, Jim Richards and Allan Moffat.
"The grass always seems greener on the other side but you never take anything for granted," Kelly says.
"Sure I won Bathurst and that's an achievement when you think such a great driver like Glenn (Seton) hasn't had a victory in 19 starts. But that doesn't make a career. There's still a championship and plenty more races to win."
Kelly has a strong team behind him including veteran Greg Murphy as a team-mate.
Every sporting team has two elements -- champion individuals backed by a championship back room. Take AFL's Michael Voss and Leigh Matthews, cricket's John Buchanan and Steve Waugh or rugby league's Allan Langer and Bennett.
Motor racing is not dissimilar. Every champion driver has a champion team. Examples being Marcos Ambrose and Stone Brothers Racing, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari or Mark Skaife and the Holden Racing Team.
This is a culture being bred at Kmart Racing, right down to lead mechanic Kevin King who is a human movement specialist who has been instrumental in the team being consistently the quickest pit stop team in the championship.
"We are strong as a team in many areas. We are lacking some speed at the moment but have been able to at least account for that by making sure we stay competitive in the other areas while we work on that problem," Kelly said.
"It's such a difficult touring car championship to win but that just makes me work even harder -- it drives me to want to win the championship.
"And we can do that." Time, and the next six rounds, will tell.