Apr. 8—In 2002, Frank Kelleher drove with his dad and his uncle from their North Scranton home to Daytona International Speedway over Easter break to interview for an internship. He got the position at the historic track.
Never did he dream that, 19 years later, he would be running the place.
Kelleher has been appointed president of Daytona International Speedway. He takes over for Chip Wile, who was promoted to NASCAR Senior Vice President, Chief Track Properties Officer.
A 1999 graduate of Bishop Hannan High School and 2003 graduate of Marywood University, Kelleher most recently was NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer. He is just the ninth president in track history.
“I am incredibly honored to have this historic role at the most iconic motor sports venue in the world,” Kelleher said in a phone interview. “I can’t wait to get to work. The fact that I started out as an intern 19 years ago and have worked my way up to this position is truly humbling. I am very grateful to be here and to have this shot.”
Cars and racing always have been part of Kelleher’s family. His grandfather Larry started a gas station and garage business in 1927. Today that business is Kelleher Tire on West Market Street in Scranton. Growing up, Kelleher worked there every day after school. He started out cleaning the restrooms and sweeping bays. As a teenager, he changed tires, changed oil, drove a tow truck and plowed snow in the winter.
When Hamlin Speedway opened in 1995, Kelleher raced in his first go-kart event.
“I think in my first race I finished second-to-last. Then in my second event, I won and was hooked,” he said. “It just became my life, competing. I would race Friday night, Saturday night on dirt tracks. I would also race Saturdays in Allentown at Oreville Kart Club and run three classes on a road course. Then I started doing divisionals and nationals.”
He won two national championships with the World Karting Association in 2001 as well as a state championship.
Teammate Bill Darcy worked for International Speedway Corporation, which is what led to him getting that internship interview.
“I got to see the business side of motor sports,” Kelleher said. “I thought, ‘Man, this beats changing tires and plowing snow. If I can’t make it as a driver, how cool would it be to work in the sport?’ “
One month before graduating from Marywood in 2003 with a degree in marketing and a discipline in retail, Kelleher received a phone call from ISC. They created a position for him.
“I graduated on a Sunday, was in my car Tuesday and was a marketing coordinator Thursday,” he said.
He has been with the company since. In October 2019, ISC and NASCAR merged.
Because so few people have held the title of president at Daytona, Kelleher said he respects those who came before him as he settles into the job.
“There have been a lot of talented, passionate and smart people to get the facility to where it is today,” said Kelleher, who turns 41 on July 6. “I need to approach it with humility and respect and truly have an understanding and a vision of what the (France) family wants out of the property. I think that’s my first step.
“The second step, we’re still working through COVID protocols and working with the CDC. We want to make sure we are providing the healthiest, safest place that we can for our guests as well as make sure that it is an environment where they can come and have a lot of fun and enjoy the sport that they love.”
Daytona’s next race weekend is Aug. 27-28, which features the regular-season finale for the NASCAR Cup Series. Then, the Daytona 500 kicks off the 2022 campaign in February.
Kelleher fondly remembers his first Daytona 500. His internship ended in the summer of 2002, but he drove down on his own from Scranton in February 2003 to voluntarily work the race.
“I was on the backstretch for the start of the race. It is forever burned in my memory seeing the cars rolling off Turn 2 and coming down the super-stretch,” Kelleher said. It was a vision I never thought I would see. And the reality was, ‘I’m here to work and I actually have the opportunity to potentially make this be my career.’ I was an emotional experience that I’ll never forget.”
Now, as part of his duties as track president, Kelleher gets to stand in Victory Lane and personally congratulate the Daytona 500 winning driver.
He and wife Lauren have two children: Frank III, age 6 1/2 ; and Carmen Teresa (Tess), age 5.
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