Nissan Motorsport’s Rick Kelly has special reason to celebrate at the Woodstock Winton SuperSprint this weekend as he joins a very special club in the history books of the Australian Touring Car Championship and Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
Kelly will rack up his 200th championship round start, becoming just the 12th driver in the 57 year history of the ATCC/VASC to achieve this special feat.
At the age of 33 he becomes the youngest driver in the history of the championship to reach the 200 milestone.
But the Sengled Racing pilot isn’t going to spend much time at all thinking about his double century, instead preferring to focus on the task at hand as his team’s increase in competitiveness sees him threatening to become a more frequent podium visitor.
“You never take notice of stats like rounds,” Kelly told supercars.com this week.
“You just head into every round trying to win it. That’s what you want to be known for, not how many times you have tried!”
To make the mark all the more special, it will mean that the Kelly family will become the first in history to have two members in the ‘200 Club’.
Rick’s older brother Todd will line up for his 220th championship round start at Winton and, in turn, equal his former Holden Racing Team teammate Mark Skaife for sixth place on the all-time round starts list.
“It’s an interesting thing, Todd was the youngest to start 200 rounds at the time he hit 200 – but Shane (van Gisbergen, who at age 27 has 124 round starts) will beat us all eventually though!” laughs Kelly.
“Time has gone quick. You get so buried in what you are doing and moving forward that you never pop your head up to have a look at where you are.”
The younger Kelly brother made an inauspicious championship debut sharing a Kmart Racing Commodore with Nathan Pretty at the 2001 Queensland 500.
Driveline failure left the-then Formula Holden Gold Star champion stranded on the line for the formation lap, not even making it through a single corner of racing on his debut.
Since then the 33-year-old has gone on to become a two-time Bathurst winner (in 2003 and 2004 with Greg Murphy), the 2006 Supercars Champion, the 2002 Rookie of the Year and winner of 12 VASC races – the last coming at Sandown in 2011.
Aside from the obvious highlights being Bathurst and the championship, Kelly nominates two wins as special in his career so far.
“Those Bathurst wins have been great but I loved winning the Sunday race at Clipsal in 2007 and one of the other special times was winning in New Zealand (Hamilton, 2011) where Todd was on the podium too,” recalls Kelly.
“Winning in your own team is very different from winning in someone else’s team. Doing it yourself is very different.”
Kelly is regarded as one of the most consistent drivers in the championship, a point underlined by his 94.4 per cent finishing rate over 446 championship races.
It’s this hallmark that he says has been the greatest difference in him over his 15 year Supercars career.
“I’m a very different driver now to then,” says Kelly.
“I don’t take the risks I used to take, I’m much more consistent. I want to win like anyone, but time changes your approach.
“I am still learning and developing as a driver.
“The good things that happen in your career do help, but the bad things and the mistakes you make shape you more as a driver.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my earlier years. I had the chance to drive in Supercars when I was young and inexperienced and you grow up in the public eye. Small mistakes turn into big things you get slammed for.
“That changes your decision-making and develops you as a person.”
Having seen the effect of team ownership on other drivers in the sport, Kelly concedes that no longer being a ‘helmet for hire’ does come at a potential cost.
“The team ownership stuff does wear you out,” he admits.
“You have more to do than just worry about turning up with your helmet. But when you look at successful drivers, it’s all about timing and positioning yourself in a successful team at the right time.
“But when you become an owner/driver it becomes difficult. When the team goes through a rough patch you can’t just pick up your helmet and go elsewhere.
“But it’s a fantastic challenge that I enjoy. Now we’re at the point where we’re showing some good times and it’s enjoyable.”
This year is Kelly’s 15th season in the VASC as a full-time driver. After racing the endurance events in 2001 with Kmart he moved into a full-time drive with the HRT-run Holden Young Lions entry in 2002 and then spent six years with Kmart Racing and the HSV Dealer Team.
Kelly and his family established Kelly Racing in 2009 and the Melbourne-based team became Nissan Motorsport in 2013.
He currently sits ninth in the VASC pointscore and is the best-placed Nissan Altima driver.