A skilled and dedicated champion in both dirt-track Modified stock cars and winged Sprint Cars, Macungie, Pennsylvania’s Dave Kelly was a stand-on-the-gas type of racer who could come through the pack and make the right kind of moves to end up in the winner’s circle. The ruggedly-built racer also had an easy way about him that made him quite popular with the fans no matter what he drove or where he competed.
Kelly began racing in 1971 when he built his No. 17 Sportsman and took it to the old one-fifth-mile asphalt layout inside Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the old half-mile dirt Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway, and to the high-banked one-third-mile Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania.
A very quick study, the U.S. Air Force veteran won six races and Grandview’s 1972 Sportsman title in his 1939 Chevrolet coupe while he was also competing in the Modifieds at the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds. The combination of running at those two first-rate tracks in different divisions at the same time greatly added to his racing knowledge and success.
Overall, Kelly won 15 Modified headliners on Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway’s five-eights-mile dirt track and he had another 13 victories at Reading. Both of these tracks required a top-notch ride each time out to claim the victory, but Kelly’s record at Reading – where he won 10 races in his own car – was one that was most interesting.
A full-timer at Reading from 1975 until it closed midway in the 1979 season, Kelly – who at one time drove a white Mustang-bodied car at Reading when the hot setup was a car that had a small aerodynamic profile – was a consistent frontrunner throughout his career at the Fairgrounds but his wins seemed to come in bunches.
However, when a 50-lap race was on the Reading schedule, it just seemed that Kelly was ready for that extra-distance action as he won five of those events and that was a considerable effort since the fields at Reading were quite possibly the very best in Modified competition on a week-in and week-out basis.
The bulk of Kelly’s trips to Reading’s Victory Lane, though, came during the track’s final abbreviated season when only 12 events were run.
Originally, it had been thought that the legendary Berks County track would close at the end of 1978, the victim of economic development. But it got a short reprieve and the fans and drivers had a bit more time before the land was to be turned into a shopping center.
With this in mind, owner-driver Kelly made the best of every time that he lined up for the main event in his Chevy-powered No. 17 Gremlin and to that end he won six of the last eight races that were held at Reading, including the 50-lap Grand Finale II on Friday night June 29, 1979. That outstanding effort which saw him have a firm hold on the competition helped him to win the last point championship at “The Home of Champions.”
Kelly kept racing the Modifieds until 1981 when he added Sprint Cars to his schedule and the 33-year-old driver’s first such ride was in a car owned by United Racing Club president Bill Campbell. From that point onward another winning career began to take shape.
Amazing, Kelly claimed the first of his five URC titles (1981-1982 & 1984-1986) in his rookie season, mostly driving the Pete Sacks red No. 18n. Then he won his final four championships in his cousin Earl Kelly’s No. 17 Globe Disposal entry, which included winning 19 races in 1985.
In all, Dave Kelly won 76 URC features and in doing so proved himself to be one of the most versatile dirt-track drivers of his era.