KELLEY RACING FOUNDERS SHOW PLENTY OF HEART FOR THE NEEDY HAMPTON, Ga., July 8, 1999 -- Aug. 21, 1952 is a very special day in the life of Jim Kelley. That was the day his son Tom was born and the day he signed the papers for ownership...
KELLEY RACING FOUNDERS SHOW PLENTY OF HEART FOR THE NEEDY
HAMPTON, Ga., July 8, 1999 -- Aug. 21, 1952 is a very special day in the life of Jim Kelley. That was the day his son Tom was born and the day he signed the papers for ownership of his first new-car dealership, selling Dodges in Fort Wayne, Ind. Forty-five years later, father and son jointly formed Kelley Racing and joined the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. When it comes to automobiles - sleek and swift, smooth and stylish - the Kelleys have it covered. The next race on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League schedule is the Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 17. The Kelleys will send drivers Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore after victory in a pair of Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear racing machines. Sharp, sponsored by Delphi Automotive Systems, ranks fifth and Dismore, who carries the MCI WorldCom colors, seventh in the point standings. The Atlanta racing weekend also will allow the Kelleys to check in on six of their 14 new-car dealerships. They own two Buick, two Saturn, one Toyota and one Saab sales stores in the Atlanta area. They also own a Titan Motorcycle dealership in the Atlanta area. This is the visible Jim and Tom Kelley. Few people know about the humanitarian side of the Kelleys. Even fewer people know about the country of Moldova. It's about the size of Indiana, nestled between the Ukraine and Romania on the northwest side of the Black Sea. The Kelleys own a company, Kelley Grain, in Moldova. They annually fly a million gallons of diesel oil from their company, Trans Oil Ltd., into the country to provide fuel for the farmers' tractors and other farm equipment. In turn, they receive a portion of the crops, particularly sunflower seeds, in the fall, which then are sold to nearby countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Italy. But making big profits isn't the Kelley's goal. "We're more missionaries more than businessmen," said Jim Kelley, who added they take the farmers at their word that they will be reimbursed with grain at harvest time. Two years ago they purchased five new four-wheel drive tractors and other farm equipment and donated them to the financially depressed country. They are negotiating to purchase 10 combines for distribution in Moldova. But the most current project is even more impressive. Before the Atlanta race, Jim Kelley was to fly two Fort Wayne cardiologists and a heart surgeon to Moldova to teach doctors there how to install pacemakers. The elder Kelley learned about Moldova and the Ukraine from two young Russians he met in Fort Wayne. They were trying to make a go of buying Russian products and importing them. Kelley suggested it would be better to deal in grain than woolen goods and such. The Kelleys now maintain offices in both the Ukraine and Moldova and have about 30 employees. "We're helping Moldova become a capitalistic state," Jim Kelley said. "The prime minister of the Ukraine is a good friend. He told us if we ever have a problem don't call the authorities, call me. The president of Moldova is a friend, too. "They put on a feed for us - chicken, beef, pork. They all want us to drink vodka and can't believe I don't drink. I say, hey, it's not necessary." Jim Kelley grew up on a farm and has never lived farther than 20 miles from Fort Wayne in his 81 years. Tom Kelley's first five years also were spent on a farm. That's why they have a strong feeling for these farm-oriented folks thousands of miles away. "We always raised hogs," Jim Kelley said. "My dad always said that hogs were the mortgage. "Really, I've never done anything on my own. People have helped me. I'm not a self-made man. I've been so fortunate." Jim Kelley has been flying for 58 years. He sponsored the midget air races in Fort Wayne in 1957-58. In 1975, he purchased a World War II P-51 fighter plane for his son with the understanding he would never race it. Of course, about five years later Tom called his dad to tell him he had just won the Silver Championship in the Reno Air Races. Tom Kelley was the March racing chassis distributor during the early 1980s. He attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1963 and eventually became a close friend of the late Scott Brayton, two-time pole winner at Indy. "CART racing was so expensive," Tom Kelley said. "What Scott told me was that basically not everybody had a chance to win. That's one of the things I like about the Indy Racing League. The last thing I wanted to do was spend a lot of dollars and not have a chance to win." Jim Kelley said when his son got excited about the Pep Boys Indy Racing League in 1997 he told Tom that he must run the operation like a business and "not because you've got the hots." He said the key to success in business, and it translates to running a racing team, is to hire good people, treat them with respect and pay them well. "I don't guess we've broken even yet," he said about Kelley Racing. Tom Kelley, who will spend the week leading up to the Atlanta race visiting the dealerships there, said he is a bit disappointed with the team's performance thus far this year. He thought his team should be the one to beat, but so far it hasn't been. Some changes in personnel have been made. "The No. 1 goal for me is to win the Indy 500," he said. "It'll always be No. 1. "Winning the championship would be almost as big. But winning that race would be the ultimate. No. 3 would be to do both multi times. I'm in for the long haul." That means to Moldova or the checkered flag at Indy.