Winston Kelley, a fixture on Motor Racing Network broadcasts for over 30 years, called his last race in a full-time capacity in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Kelley joined MRN in the late 80s as a production assistant before making his first on-air appearance in 1988 at Martinsville Speedway. He went on to become MRN’s lead pit reporter.
While his chapter at MRN will come to a close, he will continue to tell the story and history of the sport in his role as Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"I will miss the regular interactions on pit road with the drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, PR reps, fellow media members and others," Kelley said. "I’ll miss following, analyzing and trying to anticipate the strategic decisions the crew chiefs make and the exuberance and emotions of almost every Victory Lane.
"I also look forward to the opportunity to occasionally fill in on MRN in the future if asked. I have been truly blessed to be with MRN these last 34 years. I can never adequately put into words the incredible honor and privilege it has been to be a part of the MRN team."
Kelley followed in the footsteps of his father, who was the first public relations director at Charlotte Motor Speedway and did a lot of public address announcing during his career. Winston got his start in the sport with the former Universal Racing Network, which led to public address announcing at North Wilkesboro, Bristol and some other tracks.
"If your dad hunts or fishes, or whatever, you tend to hunt and fish. In my case, my dad broadcast races," Kelley said. "He went to races in and around Concord, N.C., where we grew up. We got to go to Atlanta, Rockingham, Bristol, Martinsville and places like that. I grew up around the sport and thought I’d like to do that when I got out of college."
Growing up, Kelley attended his first race in 1964 at Daytona International Speedway where his father was working as a public address announcer. One of the first drivers he met as a kid was Richard Petty after he won his first of seven Daytona 500s. Kelley’s path would cross with Petty through the years while working at MRN before things came full circle when the seven-time champion, 200 race winner was inducted into the inaugural Hall of Fame class.
"You took over your dad’s duties just like I took over my dad’s," Petty said. "The only thing is we are still going to see you at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Congratulations on retiring from MRN and you’ve been a good friend all these years. We are going to miss seeing you at the track."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was interviewed by Kelley for a number of his 26 trips to Victory Lane in the Cup Series, worked with Kelley and his team at the Hall of Fame in the role of guest curator. Earnhardt Jr., a member of the 2021 class, helped handpick the 18 cars that are featured on Glory Road for the next three years.
"I just want to say thanks for everything you have done to make this sport better," Earnhardt Jr. "There’s only a few people that really have that type of commitment and that pure positive attitude to do things the right way, to treat people the right way. You are an influence for people like me to do things better, to be a better person, to be a better asset to the sport. I just want to thank you for setting such a great example."
Jimmie Johnson has had many great moments with Kelley in Victory Lane over the years, including his seven championships that were broadcasted on MRN from Homestead-Miami Speedway. But through Johnson’s career that will see him land in the Hall of Fame in the coming years, there’s one moment that stands out the most to him.
"I would say the one for me that’s most vivid is calling him and asking him if he would be the emcee for my retirement announcement," Johnson said. "Having him there for that highly emotional experience that I had I couldn’t think of anyone better. It was a real honor to have him there for a such a big part of my career and such a meaningful moment for me and my family."
Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup Series champion and one of the Championship 4 at Phoenix, says Kelley’s name is one that he first thinks of when it comes to MRN’s tagline.
"When I think of the ‘Voice of NASCAR’ there’s two people that come to my mind, it’s Winston Kelley and Barney Hall," Keselowski said. "How fitting it is that you go out as, to me, one of the best NASCAR announcers of all time and transition your legacy into the Hall of Fame. You have done an amazing job there. We are proud of you. Glad to have you in our sport and we are going to miss you."