Kelleher brings racing background, workmanlike approach to Daytona president role

Holly Cain
·7 min read

In so many ways, Frank Kelleher‘s new role as president of Daytona International Speedway was a lifetime coming. His upbringing, his passion and his decades-long work in NASCAR all make the 40-year-old Pennsylvanian a natural choice to lead the sport‘s most iconic property.

Kelleher, who previously served as NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, is a former WKA Karting champion — winning a title at the very track he was put in charge of overseeing on April 6. He comes from a working-class background in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he grew up working on cars and learning about customer service in the family‘s long-established Kelleher Tire store.

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He attended college nearby at Scranton‘s Marywood University and was often spending breaks between classes there at the family business filling in wherever he was needed — from taking customer‘s phone calls to turning wrenches under cars.

Those early life lessons have been important in Kelleher‘s career and will serve him well as he now leads one of the most famous sporting facilities in the world. A background of hard work and high expectation have shaped how he‘s conducted himself in business and give a glimpse of what to expect of his tenure as Daytona International Speedway‘s top executive.

“I can remember there would be breaks in the day to where your 3 o‘clock class wraps up and your next one isn‘t until 7, so I would drive to the garage and think, ‘OK, I‘m going to work behind the counter and sell this afternoon,‘ ” Kelleher recalled of his college days.

“And you get there and realize someone didn‘t show up for work, so I would then be in the back changing tires and changing oil and working on cars. That wasn‘t what I thought I had to do but then again, it‘s just that spirit that nothing is below or beneath you and we‘ve got a job to get done.

“So, I think bringing that humility into being the track president here, I will bring that same energy and same mindset to the job. I‘m ready to get my hands dirty. I‘m ready to get to work, whatever that may be, whether it‘s an interview or helping the operational team. I‘m ready to get to work on that.”

And as you might expect, there is a lot of palpable pride on the Scranton streets these days as word has gotten back about Kelleher‘s new Daytona Beach role.

“My hometown is beyond ecstatic and thrilled,‘‘ Kelleher said. “They are so proud, and I have received more phone calls and emails and congratulations from friends and family that I speak to daily or haven‘t heard from in years. So they are beyond proud which really puts a big smile on my face.”

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Kelleher‘s story is full of lessons — of seizing opportunity, of turning passion into a career and of maintaining a modest, grateful heart.

During his junior year at Merrywood University, Kelleher earned an internship at the former International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and worked in the sales and marketing department. Before he even graduated the next year, ISC had called back and offered the young talent a full-time job — life‘s work, as it has turned out.

Since that internship, Kelleher has worked in several capacities in NASCAR‘s corporate ranks — more recently relocating back to Daytona after a stint at NASCAR corporate offices in Charlotte. He played a big role in securing the major sponsorships at Daytona International Speedway‘s “injectors” as well as leading media and partnership sales for the sport in general. For years, he has played a vital role in NASCAR‘s modernized corporate setting.

And, if you ask those who know Kelleher well, his success is a finely-tuned combination of the old school values and work ethic he learned from his family-business and utilizing his natural ease and smarts in the business world.

“Frank‘s a racer,” said NASCAR‘s Executive Vice President/Chief Operations and Sales Manager Daryl Wolfe, who has worked alongside Kelleher for much of the last 20 years.

“Frank grew up around the sport. He understands the sport. He knows the company. He knows what it takes to be successful on the track. He had a very successful karting career. And he‘s kind of grown up professionally in this company and seen the company from a lot of different angles. So, he knows the sport, he knows the company and knows the players and the personalities. He understands our tracks.”

2021apr16 Kelleher Karting
2021apr16 Kelleher Karting

Wolfe is adamant, however, that Kelleher‘s past success and future triumphs are genuinely based on traits that Kelleher possesses naturally. And he thinks the different attributes that Kelleher possesses will only enhance his role at the speedway.

“That‘s all professional experience,” Wolfe said. “But what makes Frank really special is he‘s just so authentic and relatable, just a likable guy who wants to get to know people on a personal level and that‘s what‘s made him successful on the partnership side, made him successful on the sales side.

“There‘s no kind of pretense. You what you see. He‘s just a very relatable guy that builds personal and deep relationships with people.”

That will go over as well with NASCAR fans as it has with Kelleher‘s corporate connections. This is a man who still fondly remembers attending races at Pocono Raceway near his hometown, a young NASCAR fan excited about being able to go in the garage and see his racing heroes.

He gets it. And fans at the sport‘s most iconic track stand to benefit.

“The past 18 years, I‘ve gotten to view the sport from many different seats, whether that was managing and serving a current partner or me out there trying to bring on a new partnership,” Kelleher explained. “So working with race teams, understanding the value proposition as well as the event day experience, it‘s been an honor for the past 18 years to have many different vantage points as to what the sport is and how to leverage it.

“I grew up as fan, a young kid with family and friends going to Pocono, being in the infield, looking through the fence and getting a glimpse at icons like Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace. So, I have that appreciation for it as well.”

“Just to be thought by Jim (France) and by Lesa (France Kennedy) and Steve (Phelps) and Mike Helton and Gary Crotty that this is what they want me to do was really humbling and an honor,‘‘ Kelleher added. “For sure, I was having a lot of fun in what was my previous role and I feel like I‘m leaving that position better than I found it. So again, it was very humbling and just a tremendous honor.”

“Daytona sets the bar from its past to what the brand is to what the events are. It‘s a great group of people I‘ll be working alongside.”

“For me personally, legacy is the first thing that comes to mind and being only the ninth track president of this iconic facility, I think back to the others that have been in this position and that‘s Bill France and Bill France Jr. and most recently Chip Wile so it‘s really understanding the legacy of what has been laid out for me and to make sure I protect and maintain that and then, ideally take it to a new level.”

Kelleher and his wife Lauren, a former Davidson College lacrosse standout and marketing corporate executive, have two children, Frankie, 6, and Tess, 5.