NEWS of Todd and Rick Kelly’s impending departure from Supercars team ownership was hardly a shock, and yet it’s the sort of major change that takes a bit of time to digest.
The Grove Group purchased 50 percent of the team at the beginning of the year and as confirmed on Monday, will perform a complete takeover by the conclusion of 2021.
Grove’s buyout though consists solely of the race team, and Kelly Racing will continue in the background as a component supplier, with Grove Racing among its clients.
DETAILS: Kellys sell out of Supercars team
The Kelly family has been part of the furniture in Supercars for over two decades, stretching back to the Mildura-raised brothers Todd and Rick’s early days as drivers.
Parents John and Margaret bought two franchises in 2003 that underpinned the Kmart Racing and later HSV Dealer Team entries in the Clayton/Walkinshaw empire, before Kelly Racing was born for 2009.
Ultimately Kelly Racing has failed to become a consistent winner, which in an industry based on results, has often made the team a lightning rod for criticism.
But its contribution to the sport runs a little deeper than just its seven race victories.
First and foremost, it’s hard to fault the Kelly family’s commitment and determination to do things their own way.
Amid their split with Walkinshaws at the end of 2008, the Kellys went chips-in, purchasing all the key assets from Perkins Engineering to start their own team, and keeping PE’s staff employed in the process.
The model was four cars and complete self-sufficiency, marking a big investment at a time when the Global Financial Crisis had hit, and Holden was already peeling back its funding outside of its top teams.
From the start Kelly Racing was strong at the non-performance aspects of running a Supercars team; they attracted great sponsors and serviced them brilliantly through their marketing and PR efforts.
Within three seasons the team was looking good on track too. The combination of Rick and Todd Kelly, Greg Murphy and David Reynolds made for a formidable driver line-up, all with strong commercial support.
Rick Kelly finished sixth in the 2011 championship with three race wins. Greg Murphy scored pole position at Bathurst that year and finished on the podium with co-driver Allan Simonsen. This was arguably their peak.
The Kellys dreamed bigger; they were geared up to be a factory team and scoring the Nissan deal for the start of the Car of the Future era in 2013 proved both their greatest achievement and biggest downfall.
The hows and whys of the lack of results over the following seven seasons running Altimas have been widely debated.
There was much public excitement about the arrival of Nissan, but it was a different story among their rivals, and perhaps the project was doomed from the moment the restrictive engine rules were set.
Did Nissan and the Kellys lack the kind of behind-the-scenes political clout required to get things turned in their favour? Or were they simply unable to build a race team capable of consistently beating the best?
Regardless, the effort from the Kelly boys was always there and Nissan brought a lot to the sport, doing its best to market its involvement even without much success to shout about.
Todd retired from driving at the end of 2017 to focus on running the team, and Rick stepped back from both driving and day-to-day duties with the team entirely at the end of 2020 as the new Kelly Grove era started.
The dream of team ownership undoubtedly cost both Kellys more success as drivers, their trophy cabinets very much front-loaded towards their time in the Clayton empire.
Rick in particular already had two Bathurst 1000 wins and a V8 Supercars Championship to his name before KR started and was a hot property at the end of the 2008 season.
Kelly Racing’s struggles though meant the highs were very high, including race wins with all three manufacturers – Holden, Nissan and Ford – with which it has raced.
Perhaps no victory was sweeter than Rick’s seven-year drought-breaker at Winton in 2018, just days after the end of their factory Nissan backing was announced.
It was impossible even for a neutral follower not to enjoy the success they did have, while also questioning why it’s been so sporadic even into their current Ford era.
Kelly Racing and Todd in particular have always been among the most open in pit lane when it comes to dealing with fans and the media.
And when the sport existed largely without either in attendance last year, the team offered unprecedented insight into its Ford development and COVID-19 affected season through its own channels.
The Kellys have taken us all on the ride over the years and it’s the journey that they should be proudest of, having a massive go in a very difficult industry.
On that basis, the Grove Group has a lot to live up to, as well as the resources and opportunity to achieve more on track than KR proved able.
The Supercars landscape that the Groves have entered is very different to that which the Kellys joined in 2009, especially once Gen3 – with all its control components – does finally come online.
Grove’s purchase of only the race team, and not the engineering machinery and current equipment behind it, is a clear indication of a fresh approach for a new era ahead.
By the Numbers, 2009-2021*
Round starts: 176
Race starts: 384
Race wins: 7
Pole Positions: 10
*season in progress