Curt was a driver, a car owner, a mechanic, and an engine builder and though he never won any championships he was still winning races 10 year after he started. While preparing for one of the heats at Anderson Speedway he suffered a heart attack and died 11 days later.
Curt Kelley was born June 24, 1948 in Union City, Michigan. Curt lived in Michigan his entire life. The racing bug bit Curt at a young age. Curt would ride his bike down the road to Harold Reynold’s junkyard, where he would then ride in the back of the pickup truck to the races. After several years of helping on other cars, Curt decided that it was time to build his own car.
In 1968, Curt began his racing career at Butler Motor Speedway. Over the years, Curt raced with the organizations TRI-Sac, USAC, SOD, IMCA and TBARA. He also raced all over the East Coast in states such as MI, IN, OH, MN, FL, PA, IL, NY, WI, and he also raced in Canada. He played all parts in racing; he was a driver, a car owner, a mechanic, and an engine builder, though most of his work was done by himself. Besides driving for himself, Curt also drove for Art Braithwaite, Sonny McHenry, Hub Becker, Bruce Carpenter, Larry Bible, Harry Stickney, and Bobby Coats.
In 1978, ten years after beginning his racing career, Curt co-won the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana with Don Mack. Curt also won the 100-mile Championship race at the Minnesota State Fair two years in a row. Along with those races, Curt also won several races against Super Modifieds in Larry Bible’s upright Sprint Car. Curt, along with George McCord, designed and built the first coil-over ¾-tube dirt Sprint Car. Unfortunately, Curt never won any championships.
Curt’s racing career ended tragically while he was doing what he loved to do. He had taken the Braithwaite sprinter to Indiana to run in the EMGE 50 at Anderson Speedway, in order to prepare for the Little 500 the following weekend. As he was preparing for his heat race, Curt collapsed. He had suffered a heart attack that put him in a coma for 11 days. Curt passed away on May 29, 1996.
After his death, the Curt Kelley Memorial Award was created in his honor. The award is given to the driver that shows the same dedication, perseverance, and tolerance throughout the racing season that Curt showed all throughout his career.
Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame