By Jordan Dodson
Many people may recognize Winston Kelley‘s voice as he is Motor Racing Network‘s lead pit reporter on Sunday afternoons during the NASCAR season; but Kelley is also the Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Kelley took the job as executive director while talk of the NASCAR Hall of Fame was becoming a reality and officially opened in May 11, 2010. Kelley has been instrumental in the Hall of Fame’s involvement with NASCAR and its success. Winston Kelley brings a lot of experience from his days with Duke Business Carolinas, as vice president of government and business relations, as well as, being a lifelong fan and supporter of NASCAR.
I got the opportunity to ask Winston Kelley, what being the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame entails and the experiences he’s had since taking on the job.
Kelley wasn’t originally looking for a new career move, but as the job opened up with the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, Kelly a native of Concord, took advantage of the opportunity. He went on to say the factors that drew his interest to the job were his passion for NASCAR, the sport’s history, his love for the Charlotte community and the opportunity to honor his childhood heroes all at the same place. It was a perfect fit. Kelley added it was the combination of the job description and location.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame works under Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Hall’s parent company. The Hall of Fame also works along side the Charlotte Convention Center throughout the year, which is also physically connected to the Hall of Fame. Winston Kelley’s job consists of, working with the Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Hall of Fame exhibit team, facility management, and people across the NASCAR industry. Kelley, the Hall of Fame and NASCAR work closely with each other for events such as Hall of Fame inductions, fan event “Acceleration weekend” and others.
Kelley added there is “no such thing as a typical day” as the executive director. He is constantly meeting with new people, traveling to the various race tracks, planning events and more. Winston Kelly characterizes himself as a planner, and is able to manage working for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in conjunction with reporting for MRN because he can schedule a year in advance when the NASCAR season schedule comes out. The jobs are “complimentary” because he is able to complete NASCAR Hall of Fame tasks during race weekends while people from the NASCAR industry are at the tracks as well, and week days since a large majority of the NASCAR community works out of the Charlotte area. His connections with people in the NASCAR industry are also vital to making sure the NASCAR Hall of Fame succeeds. At the end of the day, Kelley calls himself a “workaholic” as he works 24/7 but said, he loves both of his jobs.
When asking Winston Kelley what his favorite moment or moments have been since the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he said its like “asking a grandparent what child to choose.” He added, there have been a series of events that have stood out to him.
The first event that stood out to Kelley, was the groundbreaking of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 26, 2007. Over 40 NASCAR legends and 1000 people attended the historical event. He added, it was a cold and rainy day but it was a great moment for the sport of NASCAR.
The second memory that stood out to Kelley was when the construction crew told his team that the building was now theirs. And along with that, Winston enjoyed the “soft opening” of the NASCAR Hall of Fame where NASCAR legends took the first look at the new building.
An instance that stood out to Kelley was when he and his team surprised Raymond Parks, owner of Red Byron‘s car who won the first Sprint Cup championship in 1949, with his very own statue in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The grand opening was also important to Kelley being it was the first time fans were able to check out the Hall of Fame.
Since the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s opening in 2010, Winston Kelley says voting days and the reactions of drivers chosen in the next class of inductees is always special. One driver’s reaction that Kelley specifically recalls is Darrell Waltrip‘s induction this past February. Waltrip said his new hall of fame ring would replace his 1985 championship ring on his finger and that being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the ultimate achievement of his career.
Winston Kelley’s team has done a great job providing fans with a look at the rich history of NASCAR along with many interactive activities in the building. You can tell by the numbers, among all visitors, 85% drive more than 50 miles to check it out. The direct spend into the Charlotte market has been approximately $60M from these guests, who have indicated, their primary purpose of visiting the area was to see the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That translates to an overall economic impact over $90M. Kelley added the two take-aways his team has received from fans, is that the Hall had more to see and do than they anticipated and many non-NASCAR fans who visit the Hall of Fame, leave as a NASCAR fan because they learn so much and the experience is so engaging.
Winston Kelley and his team do an excellent job running the NASCAR Hall of Fame which is an attraction not to be missed by any NASCAR fan. If you think you know all there is to NASCAR, think again. You will learn something new every time you go, even the third, fourth or fifth time. The exhibits are constantly being updated and there are always new things to see and do. For example, the new exhibit “Wrecks: Dramatic Crashes of NASCAR” that was unveiled this past October.
The perfect opportunity to check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in February when NASCAR holds its “Acceleration Weekend” as fans can get autographs from drivers and see the new cars for the upcoming season along with experiencing the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The 2013 “Acceleration Weekend” will be February 9th next year. It’s the best access for fans to get one-on-one interaction with drivers and see all NASCAR has to offer.
Winston Kelley and his team do a great job running the NASCAR Hall of Fame and continue to provide one of the best experiences for any sports fan. As the NASCAR Hall of Fame progresses I only expect bigger and better things to come.