Attending dirt track races began almost at birth for Kelley Carlton. The 49-year-old South Carolina native began attending races at his hometown Confederate Speedway in Woodruff with his family when he was just 11 days old. Fast forward to today and you will still find Carlton attending races almost every weekend of the year. However, Carlton is no longer just sitting on the sidelines watching. For the last 25 years Carlton has carved out a second career as a race official at race tracks all over the United States.
Carlton began working at the Laurens Speedway in Laurens, S.C. as somewhat of a fill-in official but in a short time he worked his way into a position atop the ladder of event management. “They called me the director of competition. But I was just sort of the head track official that wasn’t an owner. It was a great experience working for Fred and Janet Cogsdill. They taught me so much about the business of racing.”
Carlton says it was the job at Laurens that opened the door for the opportunity to become a traveling official when a racing series that held races all around the southeast came to town. “We became fast friends with Lynn Acklin and he asked I would be willing to travel with the Southern All Stars when Laurens was on an off night. We did that for a season and BJ Parker, who owned the series, asked if I would be interested in a more full-time position. And I began doing that the following year.”
But “full-time” wasn’t exactly accurate as Carlton still maintained his job as a paramedic in Newberry, S.C. as his full-time employment. “Racing wasn’t something I was doing to make money or anything. It was my hobby but maybe obsession would be a better description.” Carlton worked his way up the ladder with his new racing job and eventually became the General Manager before leaving to pursue other avenues at the end of 2010. “BJ [Parker] had sold the series and things were just different. So, I decided to follow a new direction.”
Carlton had formed his own company in 2002 which would act as contract agency to provide management and officiating to racetracks as well as assisting race teams with public relations. “I wanted to grow the company a little and just be able to do my own thing.” Carlton’s KELCAR Motorsports Management handled events in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South and North Carolina. But Carlton found that the work wasn’t enough to quench his need to be involved in racing. In late 2011 he accepted a position with the FASTRAK Racing Series. Which led to his current role as Series Director of the ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series which has him and his team working around 25 races each year.
Carlton’s own company still contracts for several events annually as well, including two very high-profile events – The Gateway Dirt Nationals which takes place each December inside of the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri and the Wild West Shootout which happens each January in Arizona. “We are very fortunate to be included in these events. They are two of the most watched events in dirt racing because they happen when nothing else is happening. So, everyone is either there or watching at home (on a streaming pay-per-view).
But Carlton’s involvement in the racing industry doesn’t stop there. He is also heavily involved with the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame and serves on the Board of Directors. Carlton is also a talented writer who has a monthly column which appears in Dirt Monthly Magazine. He has also created a racing sanctioning body known as Sport Compact Dirt Racing Association (SCDRA) which promotes race events for sport compact race cars.
Though it seems to a casual observer that Carlton’s plate may already be overflowing, he does not see it that way at all. In fact, he is still looking for ways to help grow the sport with which he is so heavily involved. “We have a few new things in the works for next year. And this sport really is a labor of love for me. My dad always told me to try and leave something better than I found it. So that is all I want to do. Just move the needle and make a difference, you know, try and make it better for everyone.”