The space industry has become a solid launch platform for Brad Keselowski to achieve liftoff with his state-of-the-art 3-D printing company.
Since Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing opened two years ago, its owner has been reticent about the business in which he invested millions. The hybrid manufacturing factory, housed in the 70,000-square-foot-shop that once was the base of Keselowski’s truck team, assists companies by bending and forming metal into parts.
Because of proprietary agreements, the Team Penske driver remains tight-lipped about KAM’s customer base (which has been aimed at aerospace, defense, medical and automotive), but he has been more forthcoming about the company’s growth potential with space technology projected to triple into a trillion-dollar industry (and possibly within the next decade).
“Nothing happens as fast as we want it to, but we’re riding a pretty big wave right now,” Keselowski recently told NBC Sports. “It’s not much of a secret if you follow my LinkedIn account, but we’re really, really into space right now. Very committed to it.
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“We’re working with several key launch-related companies, building some very high-end equipment to make their launches possible in ways that it wasn’t possible before. So that’s pretty much dominated my business, and there’s a lot of runway left to go there as space just continues to take off.”
Keselowski describes the business as “just absolutely flying right now” with “double- to triple-digit growth, and I suspect that probably will continue for the next few years, so I’m really thankful for that.
“We’re building a lot of really cool stuff that’s game-changing in its own way, so that’s exciting. I can’t really go into the things that we’re building, but that is what it is.”
He has gone public about his need for more employees.
Hours after finishing second to Cup Series champion Chase Elliott in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway (for his best points finish in eight years), Keselowski tweeted a help wanted ad to displaced NASCAR employees.
If you’ve got the right stuff, In project management, CNC machining, mechanical engineering, metal fabrication skills, NDT, accounting or parts assembly; I want you at my company and may have a spot to fit you in immediately.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) November 9, 2020
The call to action drew a few dozen applications and resulted in three new hires — and Keselowski wants to add more as many Cup teams face Next Gen-driven downsizing that could have more team members seeking employment.
With the KAM payroll expecting to double in 2021, he expects there will be more opportunity for the Statesville, North Carolina company to dip into the NASCAR talent pool for engineering and manufacturing.
But beyond being an economic engine, Keselowski also views KAM as fulfilling a greater purpose in driving U.S. innovation. In one of his LinkedIn posts, he shared a link to a story about Chinese scientists building a Mach 16 plane engine, which he cautioned was a national security risk.
“If we don’t get control real quick, they’re going to have full working hypersonic missiles in both Russia and China before we do, and that’s a complete game-changer to the battlefield,” Keselowski said. “So we’ll see how that plays out. There’s a big cold war going on there.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Defense Department with the Biden administration. There’s a lot of question marks there. Maybe it’ll be a boom, maybe it’ll be a crash, I don’t know. I can say over the last year or two, whether it’s the Space Force or different things going on that maybe are a bit of a chuckle in the media, but they are very real for those that are behind the scenes.”
Keselowski, who turns 37 in February, said he remains committed to KAM lasting well past the end of his driving career.
“I feel like I’ve got a long runway in front of me still,” he said.
During an interview with NBC Sports to promote an event at KAM that put servicemembers in tailored suits (which was spearheaded by his Checkered Flag Foundation), Keselowski discussed his personal and professional outlook after an eventful 2020:
Q: Between your career renaissance in Cup, the success of KAM and your family, what’s it been like trying to strike a balance between all the activity happening in your life?
Keselowski: “I’m growing in all directions. As a man of faith, I believe that’s important. You should not be the same person today you were yesterday. Especially when you’re of good age and health to continue to grow. I’m trying to do just that in all aspects. My family has certainly grown on the personal side. I’ve got two daughters, married, certainly a big change from where I was five to six years ago. I’m enjoying it. My youngest daughter is 100 percent ‘daddy’s girl’ that the second I walk in a room, her eyes light up, and she crawls as fast as she can and jumps in my arms, and it’s one of those things that melts your heart every day. So I feel really blessed by that. Of course, my wife and oldest daughter are both doing great as well.
“On the professional side, I had one of the best years I’ve ever had on the race track. Which I’m super excited about. Of course, one spot short of the end goal, but clearly within reach.
“It was really a huge year for me, personally. I told this to Roger Penske the other day when I saw him that 2020 in a lot of ways was a complete recharge for my batteries because the end of ’18 and ’19 were not anywhere near where I wanted them to be or go. That can really zap you hard, whether it be how happy you are or your confidence levels. I feel reinvigorated in so many different ways by the season I had in 2020. I feel like I had a great year driving. Certainly wasn’t perfect, but it gave me the confidence to say, ‘Hey, I can do this at a very high level and some of the shortcomings in the last few years are not necessarily indicative of where I’m at, so much as it is a collective.’ That was really good for me.”
Q: Is there a sense of accomplishment or wonder that you seem to have graduated into this next phase of your life?
Keselowski: “I’d say it feels a little like a TV series. I’m just wondering what’s going to happen in the next season. Is the plot line going to fall apart or is it going to keep going and get stronger and stronger? I don’t know. I’ve got a few ideas to make it stronger and stronger, and I’m going to push them real hard.”
Q: You seem more active posting family updates on social media since the NASCAR season ended. How has your family been managing the COVID-19 pandemic in the offseason?
Keselowski: “Yeah, we’re doing great. Everybody’s healthy and doing well, and we are certainly respectful to those who had issues. With that in mind, we’re trying to live the best life we can for our kids and our family. It’s a balancing act. I think we’ve walked it pretty well. In some ways, it’s the best of times and worst of times. It’s the best of times because we’re together more now than we ever were before just by nature of the schedules and quarantining and all that. It’s the worst of times because of the way we got there, but we’re going to try to make the most of any opportunity that comes in front of us even if it maybe doesn’t come to us in the best way possible.”
Q: So it’s become much easier to have a family life with the de-emphasis on practice and qualifying in NASCAR?
Keselowski: “One hundred percent. When I came into Cup (with a partial schedule in 2009), they were just doing the testing ban, and I remember being so mad about that. All these drivers came in, the rookie crop of ’05-06, they came in with unlimited testing and all these things. Test Tuesday and Wednesday, and show up for a three-day show Thursday, practice Friday and Saturday, race Sunday.
“Here I was just trying to carve my way in racing against half the field in that age bracket at the time, and at a pretty big deficit to start with lacking the experience but not to have that ability to catch up via testing was a huge loss. I remember being so angry about that. I remember having a conversation with Brian France and Mike Helton about it at the time and voicing my displeasure with the thought process being you should be able to work as hard as you want to work to be successful, and I’m willing to work. Let me work.
“And I remember them countering that my peers, especially those toward the end of their careers, felt the exact opposite — no testing, no extra days at the track — so that they could have a family life. And I remember not understanding that at all and just kind of feeling like, ‘Well, too bad.’
“And now the shoe is on the other foot, and I guess it’s the hindsight, or God laughing at me. I don’t know. Now it’s been extended to an even deeper level, and my 23-, 24-year-old self would have been very mad, but that’s not who I am anymore, and I feel very lucky to be where I am now and the sport to be where it is now that I can take advantage.”
Q: Now you feel like you could keep racing with this schedule for several years?
Keselowski: “I could. I don’t know if the girls feel that way. They’d love to be at the race track. As far as not having the three-day shows, yeah, absolutely. Those are just days of your life you just never get back that were expensive and not productive.”