Davin Scites and Owen Kelly (Left to Right)
JUNIOR’S CHOSEN TWO
Two Motor Mile Speedway regulars are making names for themselves with the help of JR Motorsports
Drivers Davin Scites and Owen Kelly are as different as the places where they represent. Scites’ good-ole’-boy persona is a reflection of his cultural upbringing in Wayne, West Virginia, nestled in the sticks on the western margin of the state. Kelly’s unmistakable Australian accent also is ancestral trademark, a tribute to the culture down-under on the island of Tasmania, Australia.
But while the pair’s personalities and back stories are polar opposites, they have one thing in common- a racing relationship with NASCAR’s most popular driver.
This season, Scites and Kelly have represented JR Motorsports, the organization founded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seven cars currently operate out of the 66,000-square-foot stable that houses JRM in Mooresville, NC.
Not bad for a company started to sell t-shirts.
Established in 1999 as a management company, JR Motorsports was designed to handle the marketing affairs of the younger Earnhardt upon its inception. Born in a glorified shed on the property of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and boasting only one employee, JRM morphed into a race team by 2002. For the first time, Dale Jr. entered a race as an owner, enlisting the help of T.J. Majors to handle the driving duties. The team’s first event was a Street Stock race at Concord Motorsports Park. The following season the team made the move to Late Model racing, and a year later on August, 21. 2004, JR Motorsports captured its first ever feature win.
The venue… Motor Mile Speedway.
JR Motorsports continued to grow following its first win at the .416-mile oval. This year, all five Late Model drivers under the JRM banner have visited the Radford short track, with two drivers competing full-time: Davin Scites and Owen Kelly.
Scites Set On Success
At age 5 Scites acquired a go-kart and began work on what would become an extensive and equally impressive racing resume.
The son of a Late Model Sportsman Series driver who competed in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s, Scites passion was predestined and his success predictable.
Ten years following his introduction to the sport, Scites transitioned into the realm of Legends racing, where he found instant success, winning at Ona Speedway in West Virginia in his debut. Three national championships followed, and suddenly, what had began as a hobby had blossomed into a habit.
Racecars clashed with the classroom in 1996, when Davin Scites encountered a conflict that would forever alter his career path. For Scites, the decision between dropping out and driving was an easy one.
“It wasn’t tough at all for me,” recalls Scites with a wry smile. “I’d be in school and racecars were all I was thinking about. I was so undecided every year in college, but I loved racing. It got to the point where we went ASA racing full-time and I said ‘Dad, I’m wasting your money in college.’”
That year Scites left Marshall University to pursue a career behind the wheel. Over the next several seasons Scites recorded seat time in numerous divisions including the ASA circuit and the ARCA/REMAX series. However, it wasn’t until he moved to North Carolina to return to Late Model racing that he stumbled upon his biggest break yet.
“I had just moved to Mooresville and had went back to runnin’ Late Models out of ASA and I needed a shop,” Scites recalls. “[Dale Earnhardt] Jr. offered me a shop, and by the middle of that year I went over there.”
Beer and Bargains
Scites’ path to 349 Cayuga Drive in Mooresville was fairly conventional; he had known Dale Jr. before Dale had offered up the invitation to come work out of his shop. But how Owen Kelly got there is another story.
Kelly had seen the headquarters of Dale Jr’s racing operation in 2007, while on a trip to the U.S. to test-drive Late Models owned by former NASCAR Cup driver Robert Pressley.
There was no official meeting however, and Kelly remained focused on obligations in Australia, where he was steadily climbing the ranks of the V8 Supercar Series. Revered as the most popular form of motorsports in Australia, the series had been the goal sought after by Kelly throughout the majority of his racing career.
Like Scites, Kelly was born into a racing family. His father, Chas Kelly became a Tasmanian Speedway legend most notable for his accomplishments in the Grand National division. Kelly grew up in go-karts, moving to various forms of touring divisions before landing a ride in the V8 Supercar Series in 2001.
Kelly recalls racing go- karts against NASCAR Nationwide Series regular and fellow Australia native Marcos Ambrose when they were merely 10 years old.
“We were banging wheels when we were kids,” Kelly says. “There for awhile it was, you know, if he didn’t win- I won, or if I didn’t win- he won. It got pretty heated for kids there a few times.”
Kelly’s longest stint in any series had been in go-karts, where he had spent 10 years of his career. He was in his sixth season as a V8 Supercar Series competitor – and in a race – when his career changed completely.
“Dale Jr. just by chance went to Australia for a holiday,” Kelly says of his meeting with Earnhardt.
While there Dale Jr. attended the final round of the Australian V8 Supercar Championship, a race in which Kelly was entered. Discussions quickly turned into deals; Dale Jr. managed to make almost 100 laps in a Supercar around Queensland Raceway. A couple of nights later, Kelly would be given the opportunity to pilot an American Late Model Stock car for JR Motorsports.
“We were in a bar one night drinking a couple beers. I asked him what he was gonna do with all those Late Models, and when he said he had one free I told him I’d come and drive it,” Kelly explains. “About two beers later, we had a deal down.”
Self-Serve Service Station
Scites and Kelly may operate out of a finer facility as compared to their competitors, but that doesn’t mean the pair of wheelmen drive on easy street. When it comes to JR Motorsports, no one gets a free ride.
“All the drivers have to work on their own cars. Yes, we do have resources, but we’ve got to work hard to run good,” Scites explains.
Do it yourself. That’s the mission statement of the organization. At JR Motorsports, the idea is that drivers not only build cars, but character. It’s the philosophy adopted by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the theme that drivers like Owen Kelly have quickly adapted to.
“At the start of the year Jr. said, ‘There it is. There’s your car, there’s your trailer, you sort it out,’” Kelly says. “We’ve really just persevered with it ourselves. We’ve been flat out trying.”
And the hard work is paying off. After starting the season with three finishes outside the top 25 in the first five races, Kelly and the R&B Transport Refinishing team have rallied, posting three top fives and six top tens, with a season’s best third place effort coming last month. The recent success has boosted Kelly into the top 12 in the standings as of Aug. 31.
Although Scites has more experience at the Radford short track than Kelly, Scites has produced more consistent results this season than years past, thanks in part to the shop and the new sponsor given to him by Earnhardt. Scites has recorded three wins this season and currently sits third in the track standings and thirty-second in the national standings.
“He’s given us a shop and the Champion sponsor to help us financially. It’s helped a ton, especially when you’re doing it for a living,” says Scites.
Tasmania, Australia and Wayne, WV are both a long way away from Mooresville, NC. But for a pair of drivers living the life of stock car racers, the JR Motorsports shop is a good place to call home.