Blend of grassroots, corporate training pays off for new Daytona president Frank Kelleher


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Frank Kelleher, the new president for NASCAR at Daytona International Speedway, grew up around racetracks – working at them, racing (and winning) at them and occasionally sneaking into them.

As a preteen who turned wrenches on his family’s race teams at dirt tracks around the Pocono, Kelleher was too young to enter the pits.

“So they’d pull the truck over on the side of the road, and I’d get in the trailer and just hang onto a radius rod on the wall,” Kelleher told NBC Sports with a laugh.

It was an inauspicious start in racing that already was expansive before he took the job four months ago to become the ninth man to run the World Center of Racing.

SATURDAY AT DAYTONA: Details for watching the regular-season finale

The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native is a two-time national karting champion who put his driving career on hold to take a marketing job 18 years ago at International Speedway Corp. Kelleher rose through the ranks to help eventually broker the company’s merger with NASCAR, and he led a 47-person staff as a senior vice president and chief sales officer generating sponsor revenue for NASCAR and all of its tracks.

Frank Kelleher is the ninth track president in Daytona history (Daytona International Speedway).

Though he had aspirations of becoming a track president, his recent promotion has been as emotional and unexpected as sitting in a backstretch suite watching the cars roll of Turn 2 at his first Daytona 500 in 2003.

“It was that surreal feeling of ‘I don’t belong here,’ ” Kelleher said. “I belong at the garage turning wrenches and at the dirt track. How the hell did I end up getting paid to be at Daytona?” It just didn’t compute with me, and I still carry that grit with me of I’ve got to wake up every day and earn it.”

During his early rise up NASCAR’s corporate ladder, he often avoided noting his grassroots beginnings.

“I just had that blue-collar chip on my shoulder of I’m going to have to work harder than everyone,” he said. “I wasn’t embarrassed of my roots or my history, but I was just young, immature and worried if I lead with this story of, ‘Hey, I’m managing your millions of dollars of business, and I grew up pumping gas and changing tires,’ I was worried it would get lost in translation, so I kind of tucked that down and really just focused on the clients’ business and on the industry and religiously read everything I could get my fingers on about sports to just grow with a new vocabulary.

“But then as I matured and got a little bit older and confident and started sharing here’s how I grew up and got involved in the sport, I started to see it actually carried a ton of value and weight to where I think now being the president of Daytona International Speedway, I feel like it’s the perfect storm to authentically be me and to own I grew up a blue-collar kid. I’ve towed cars off the side of the highway. I’ve plowed snow. I’ve changed tires. I’ve worked multiple jobs. I’ve been in the stands of the Indy 500. I’ve been to the hospital after getting ribs broken racing go-karts.

“I feel like whether I’m talking to a fan or Corporate America, authentically being me is a really good fit for this moment in time.”

Some nuggets about the rise of Kelleher, who also oversees Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway as the president of NASCAR Southeast Properties:

–Aside from racing, his first job was at Kelleher Tire in Scranton. The racing fuel and tire supplier was founded by his grandfather in 1927 and still owned by his father and uncles. “I remember one time when I messed up at work one day, my Uncle took me outside and we looked at the sign on the building. He said if you don’t treat people right, they will go through the whole valley and say Kelleher Tire took advantage of us. I learned from that and haven’t changed. Treat people right and do what you say you are going to do.”

–Kelleher began racing at 16 for Barry Greenzweig, “the godfather of go-kart racing in the Northeast,” out of a shop in the Poconos. Kelleher would make a daily hourlong commute “to be in the grease” by tearing down engines, mounting tires and scaling go-karts. He also fell in love with road course racing because of “the speed and sensation. You can outdrive someone by being better in certain corners.”

–Providing tips to fellow racer Bill Darcy helped him get his first internship at ISC (as Darcy was starting its partnership marketing department). “He said, ‘I know you want to drive, but there’s a lot of people who want to race. If you can’t make it, perhaps there’s still a job in sports for you.”

Frank Kelleher’s first Daytona 500 as track president will take place Feb. 20, 2022 (Daytona International Speedway).

–After relocating in a “beat-up Suburban” from Scranton to Daytona Beach, Kelleher started his internship in an extended stay hotel before being offered a place to live by ISC salesman Gary Usina. “That opened the door to meet even more people in NASCAR and ISC,” said Kelleher, a graduated of Marywood University who now is on the school’s board of directors. “I was anointed by Gary that if I was hanging with him, it was all right. I started getting more projects and invited to more things. Our CMO was Paul Phipps, and he hadn’t said two words to me my whole internship. I was so intimidated by him. He took the crew to lunch and stood up and gave a speech about me. Whenever I wanted a job, he’d have one for me.”

–After returning from a ski trip to Utah with his wife and two young children, Kelleher was caught off guard when he was told of the Daytona track president job by NASCAR chief revenue officer Daryl Wofle. He then had one-one-on meetings with Lesa France Kennedy, Jim France, Mike Helton and Steve Phelps.

“Good things come at you when you least expect it,” Kelleher said. “It’s not like you ever are going to be fully ready or the stars are going to align,” Kelleher said.  “I’m just surrounded by so many great people from the France family, to Mike Helton to Chip (Wile, whom he succeeded at Daytona). There’s so many people on the operational side like Andrew Gurtis who embraced me like family. It’s exciting being around them every day talking about the World Center of Racing.

“There are a lot of strategic minds in this building thinking generation to generation and making sure that the business is going to thrive. There are many closed-door conversations about moving people around to cross-pollinate. I was aware of all that going on, I just was not aware of exactly what they felt my next move was.”

NASCAR Daytona Frank Kelleher
Frank Kelleher has raced in the annual World Karting Association event at Daytona International Speedway (Daytona International Speedway).

–Though Kelleher is out of competitive racing, he finished second of 45 drivers in 2012 on Daytona’s Rolex 24 road course that is used by the World Karting Association for a prestigious annual event in December.

“Forever one of my best memories,” he said.

Kelleher still races casually in a go-kart league with NASCAR employees and executives (including Ben Kennedy, Wile and Wolfe).

Texas Truck race results: Carson Hocevar scores first series win

Texas Truck race results
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Carson Hocevar was in front after the leaders crashed in overtime and scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Texas Truck race results

Rookie Nick Sanchez, who led 168 of the 172-lap race, dueled reigning series champion Zane Smith on the last lap when Sanchez’s truck hit Smith’s. As Sanchez tried to regain control of his vehicle, he was hit from behind by Hocevar. That contact sent Sanchez into Smith. Christian Eckes also was collected.

Hocevar’s first win came in his 59th series start.

Chase Purdy placed second. Stewart Friesen finished third. Ty Majeski was fourth. Jake Garcia completed the top five.


Richmond Xfinity results, driver points


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith won a stage, led a race-high 83 laps and rallied late to score his first career Xfinity win Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

MORE: Richmond Xfinity results

MORE: Xfinity points after Richmond race

John Hunter Nemechek placed second. The rest of the top five featured Josh Berry, Kaz Grala and Cole Custer. Austin Hill, who had won three of the first six races of the season, placed ninth.

Hill continues to lead the points. He has a 12-point advantage on Riley Herbst and an 18-point lead on Nemechek heading into the next series race in two weeks at Martinsville.

Chandler Smith scores first career Xfinity win with Richmond victory


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith held off John Hunter Nemechek to win his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

The 20-year-old Smith took the lead with 12 laps to go and withstood a restart with six laps to go to earn the victory for Kaulig Racing.

MORE: Richmond race results, driver points

His victory came about a month after being passed for the lead with two laps to go at Las Vegas and finishing third day.

“It obviously wasn’t in God’s works for me that and I was fine with that, I was good with that,” said Smith, who will make his Cup debut Sunday. “I knew there was something bigger and better that He was playing it out for me and I just had to be faithful and keep on trucking. Here’s proof of it.”

Nemechek was second. Josh Berry placed third and was followed by Kaz Grala and Cole Custer.

Justin Allgaier finished 13th to win the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

“Today was weird because of how we finished,” Allgaier said. “Given the same circumstances a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, 13th wasn’t going to win the Dash 4 Cash but today it did.”

Stage 1 winner: Chandler Smith

Stage 2 winner: Josh Berry

Who had a good race: A caution caught Justin Allgaier a lap down, ending his chances for a top-five finish but he was able to bounce back and win the Dash 4 Cash for a fifth time. … Derek Kraus finished 10th in his Xfinity debut. … Chris Hacker placed 14th in his Xfinity debut.

Who had a bad race: Riley Herbst had his career-long streak of top-10 finishes snapped after nine races. He placed 23rd after he was hit and spun late in the race.

Notable: This is the second time in the last four races that there has been a first-time series winner. Sammy Smith scored his first series win last month at Phoenix.

Next: The series is off until April 15 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain move on from COTA incident


RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez says he’s been trying to “work on myself” after conflicts with teammate Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman last weekend at COTA but noted that if NASCAR doesn’t make adjustments with restarts on road courses, he’ll change his driving style.

NASCAR fined Suarez $50,000 on Wednesday for hitting another vehicle on pit road after the race. Suarez hit Chastain’s car at pit entrance and hit the back of Bowman’s car while they were both on pit road.

MORE: Cup starting lineup at Richmond 

“I’ve been trying to work on myself mostly during the week, trying to clear my mind and reset,” Suarez said Saturday at Richmond Raceway. “My team, we’re good. I think the issue wasn’t really with one driver. I feel like it’s more as an industry, how we are allowing to have those kind of bump-and-run restarts at the end of the races at road courses.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to go by. Suarez finished 27th.

Chastain said he and Suarez have moved on from last week’s incident after talking this week.

“Every household on this earth has their moments of arguments and we had ours,” Chastain said Saturday.

“We’re family. We’re in the same house, right. It’s in our name. It’s Trackhouse. No matter what, we all think we have to put that behind and know that moving forward we’re brothers. … We’re brothers at Trackhouse and we’re going to be stronger together.”

Suarez is among the number of drivers who have raised concerns about the rough driving in the series. The Next Gen car is more durable and can take more hits — as evident in the Clash at the Coliseum to start the year when drivers barreled into the back of cars in the corners to slow down.

Add the emphasis of winning, less respect for one another and the result is the type of racing on display at the end of the race at Circuit of the Americas, as drivers charged down a long straightaway before braking hard for a tight turn and making contact with one another.

So, what can be done?

“I don’t have the answers to that,” Suarez said. “All I know is that NASCAR is working toward trying to make a better solution for some of these restarts. It doesn’t look right. This sport looks embarrassing.

“That’s not real. Just go into the corner and bump three cars to push people out of that way, that’s not real. We know that. That’s how some people got top fives and top 10s last week and some of the guys that were fast, like myself, finished 27th.

“If NASCAR does something about it, that’s amazing. If they don’t I’ll just join the party.”