Queen’s grad Kellett enjoying life in the fast lane

Stouffville, Ontario native Dalton Kellett likes to go fast – really fast.

The 28-year-old is currently competing in his second full-time season in the NTT INDYCAR Series, North America’s premier open-wheel racing league. Racing cars with a top speed of approximately 235 miles per hour (378.196 km/h) is no easy task; however, the Canadian driver has some impressive credentials that may help him get the most out of his Number14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet: a degree in engineering physics from Queen’s University.

Dalton Kellett, a Queen’s University engineering graduate, completes a practice run ahead of the 2022 Honda Indy Toronto. Photo by Dylan Chenier.

“Growing up, I kind of always knew I’d be in one of the STEM fields,” said Kellett. “I debated between just straight physics versus the engineering physics program that I ended up choosing. I always loved tinkering and making stuff and all that. So, it was a natural setting; even if I didn’t race, I still would have gone down that path.”

According to Kellett, there is a lot in common between racing and the lessons he learned during his time at Queen’s. “The sport is so technical; there’s so much that goes on with these race cars. It’s a real development as far as making the car pass over time, and working with the team and engineers; from a sports side, that was always really exciting,” he expained.

In terms of whether his education gives him a competitive edge on the track, Kellett said it’s “a useful background to have… I’ve gone through times where [I was trying to do] too much in the engineering and stuff [and needed to] just back off and focus on being a driver. So ,that’s been a learning process with my own kind of personality. But in the end, I finally found a good balance between the two.”

Besides having to balance his engineering knowledge with his requirements as a racing driver, the Sci’ 15 graduate said it was also difficult navigating the demands of his budding racing career while completing his academic journey at Queen’s. However, he noted that help from many of his professors made the process as easy as possible.

“I was so fortunate to have the support from Queen’s University. I would basically go and meet with each professor at the start of [every] term and explain my situation, and they would help me out by letting me hand in stuff early and being flexible with some of the [due dates],” Kellet said.

“I still got all the same work done; we just moved some stuff around. That was a big help… It was very challenging academically, being there as a student first, athlete second… It was a very busy four years.”

While Kellett was tied up with a number of commitments during his time at Queen’s, the racer said he enjoyed the experience at the university and in Kingston.

“It was a great city. I met some of my best friends there, and I have a few friends from Queen’s [who] come out to watch some of the races, and [I] stay in contact with some of my professors in the engineering program… I had a great four years and… really enjoyed the city and the community at Queen’s. I just wouldn’t trade that experience for [anything].”

In terms of what attracted Kellett to racing in the first place, he said it was his “love of vehicles” as a kid that made the sport a natural point of interest. “I loved Skidoos and ATVs and all that — going fast. [It was] that sense of speed and competition as a young kid.” However, Kellett said it was a passion for racing shared by his father Mark and some friends that got him to think of motorsports as a potential career path.

“I came by that interest in cars from my dad; he instilled that love for cars and racing. I grew up with some friends [who] raced go-karts, [they] got into it before I did. Just seeing them race karts at a young age, [it] was something I always wanted to do. So, I finally got into it at about 13 years old.”

Kellett’s mother Cinde said she was apprehensive about her son competing in such a dangerous sport, which is why he waited until he was 13 to begin go-karting. “He wanted to race when he was six, and I said ‘No, there are plenty of other sports; let’s concentrate on [those]… In the end, if you still want to race, we will make it happen.'”

Eventually, Kellett’s parents allowed him to begin a career in karting, with the teenager competing in events throughout Canada, the United States, and even Europe. In 2012, the Canadian made the the move to single-seater racing; he drove for Pabst Racing Services in the USF2000 championship for two years, finishing 14th and 16th in the standings in his first and second season respectively. In 2014, Kellett raced with Pabst Racing in the Pro Mazda Series, where he scored the first podium finish of his career at the Houston Grand Prix.

2015 saw Kellett sign with Andretti Autosport, owned by Michael Andretti, one of the biggest names in North American racing. In his first season with the new team, Kellett finished in tenth place in his second Pro Mazda campaign. After that, the Canadian moved up the Road to Indy Ladder, racing in Indy Lights, a series which acts as a direct feeder to INDYCAR.

After four seasons in Indy Lights, with finishes of seventh place in 2018 and 2019, Kellett made the move to INDYCAR, realizing a career-long ambition. “Once I got into the Road to Indy Program… the NTT INDYCAR series was always the goal I wanted to attain.”

After several starts in 2019, Dalton Kellett has spent the last two seasons competing full-time for A.J. Foyt racing, a longtime fixture in the INDYCAR series. Through the 33 races so far in his career, the Canadian has faced a number of challenges on-track, with a career-best finish of 12th at the 2021 Bommarito Automotive Group 500 in St. Louis.

While the results have been fairly disappointing for Kellett thus far, with the driver routinely failing to finish inside the top 20, his mother said she has noticed improvements throughout the last few years, particularly in his increased confidence and calmness.

Kellett leads teammate Kyle Kirkwood on the opening lap of Sunday’s race. Photo by Dylan Chenier.

This past weekend, Kellett competed in one of the biggest races of his career, the 2022 Honda Indy Toronto, the lone Canadian stop on the 2022 INDYCAR calendar. “To make my debut at the Toronto Indy is a dream come true… To be one of the Canadians that have gotten to this level, and to be able to continue that [tradition] of Canadian drivers, it’s an honour,” said Kellett.

The Toronto race is typically an annual fixture on the INDYCAR calendar; however, COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 prevented organizers from hosting the event, making Kellett’s 2022 trip to Canada a long-awaited one. Despite the excitement of his first ever home INDYCAR race, Kellett’s campaign in Toronto was filled with its fair share of adversities.

The course around Exhibition Place is considered one of the most challenging on the series calendar. Kellett spent much of Friday’s practice session familiarizing himself with the racing line and how to maneuver his car around the track, finishing the day 25th on the speed charts. The racer’s fortune did not improve on Saturday, with the Number 14 car suffering fuel issues in qualifying, preventing Kellett from turning a single lap.

Starting 23rd in Sunday’s race, Kellett looked to be holding his own, as he stayed in contention with some of the faster cars throughout the early stages. However, on lap 30, the Canadian was forced to retire from the event due to an issue with his engine, ending the day in 24th place. “Definitely not the Toronto race weekend we were looking for… Our day has ended early here with what looks like a mechanical engine failure,” said the driver/engineer in a team press release.

“I am very happy to have the hometown crowd here; I’ve been absolutely humbled by the reception… All the Toronto race fans and Canadian race fans that have travelled here — a big thank you to all of them.”

Kellett will look to turn things around next weekend, as the INDYCAR Series heads back to the United States for a doubleheader event in Iowa.

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