Canadian Drivers at #indyTO: Dalton Kellett of the MRTI

Dalton Kellett: “You can say it’s in my blood”

By: Christian Ryan

Dalton Kellett knows his race cars inside and out.

The 23-year-old homegrown talent from Toronto, Ontario is competing in his second season of Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, having climbed the ranks of the Mazda Road to Indy. While knocking on the door of the Verizon IndyCar Series through strong performances with one of racing’s biggest name teams, Kellett’s road to Indy top includes a detour. However, he credits his success to taking the road less traveled by.

As a child, Kellett was introduced to racing through an already established interest in snowmobiles. While riding with his friends, he would have short courses set up to emulate the Formula 1 racing he watched with his father. The young Kellett, growing fascinated with the mathematical and meticulous approach to motorsport of “The Professor” Alain Prost, saw a side of racing that appealed to him as much as the speed.

“When I was growing up I was always a gear-head, tinkerer type kid,” Kellett describes. “I was one of those stereotypical kids that always takes stuff apart and all that kind of stuff. My grandfather was an inventor and my dad went to school for engineering. You can say it’s in my blood.”

Kellett began climbing the ranks of go kart racing in his teens, earning rookie of the year honours in the 2008 Toronto Kart Club’s Honda Junior category. He would spend the next few years battling his way through Rotax karting championships throughout Canada and the United States before upgrading to Formula Fords, claiming third in the Ontario Formula Ford Championship in 2011. It was in this time that Kellett saw two paths:  one with the possibility of a bright and successful future in professional motorsport, and the other with the possibility of fizzling out of racing without a backup plan.

“In karting I saw a lot of fellow races who quit school or never got a post-secondary education,” Kellett explains. “In a lot of cases, once their racing careers dried up, they didn’t have anything else. I just didn’t see that as a position that I wanted to put myself.”

Kellett enrolled at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, majoring in Engineering. At a prestigious university in a daunting and difficult degree, Kellett’s knack for engineering and lifelong love of mechanics saw him excel in academics as he did on the racetrack. He now holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from Queen’s, while maintaining opportunities to compete in the Mazda Road to Indy.

In fact, as Kellett’s own Road to Indy began in the Cooper Tires USF2000 series, he found that his decision to pursue higher education alongside his racing career was a benefit to his racing repertoire.

“Having the engineering background throughout my career has always been a big help,” he explains, “especially as you get into the faster cars up into Indy Lights and IndyCar, you’re working with a lot more engineers at the track. You have to give very detailed feedback on what the car is doing. So having a strong foundation and understanding of mechanics and science of the race car helps when you’re working with those engineers.”

By the time he graduated from Queen’s, Kellett had also claimed several top 10 results in USF2000 and stood on the podium in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The 2015 season marked not only his graduation from university, but his graduation to Indy Lights with one of racing’s biggest names.

Having successfully vied for an Andretti Autosport seat in the Pro Mazda Championship, Kellett moved up into Indy Lights with the storied team with his education complete and his eyes on a professional racing career. This includes his proudest racing achievement: back to back podium finished in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the mecca of open wheel racing and Kellett’s personal holy grail.

“My personal goal for my career is to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, compete in the [Indianapolis] 500 and challenge for the win,” he says of his career aspirations. “I think that’s the goal for a lot of [drivers]. In Indy Lights and the Mazda Road to Indy, it’s so competitive because you have a lot of drivers that share that same goal.”

Although the glory of Indianapolis ranks highly on Kellett’s achievements and aspirations, there’s nothing quite like coming home to the Honda Indy Toronto.

“The race in Toronto, for me as a local boy, is definitely one of the highlights of the season,” he says. “I love the fact that I can have all my friends there, family, and every year we get a large group of family and friends that come out to the race. On a personal side, it’s very significant… The track is a lot of fun, so it’s just kind of that perfect storm of having that personal connection but also being just a great venue.”

With his own history of success on the track and in the classroom, Kellett, a 2017 Young Alumni Award recipient from the Toronto French School, knows that he plays an important role in the development of motorsport in Canada when he returns home to race in Toronto.

“I think it’s really important to have an identifiable and recognizable face for the Canadian fans,” he explains. “Guys like all the Canadians that have gone through the Mazda Road to Indy and gone on to have success like [James] Hinchcliffe. Having those public figures in the event is really important for the Toronto fans. It gives them somebody to root for. A lot of us have connections with the Canadian karting community, so when the kids in karting see us racing at the Honda Indy Toronto they see this is an attainable goal, something I can shoot for.”

Whether he’s tinkering with engines, rock climbing with fellow drivers to improve his grip strength, or relaxing with family and friends at a ski resort, Kellett knows that he has taken a noble path to racing that has been rewarded by success on the track. While he has graduated school, he continues to be a student, taking in the advice of upper series teammates and Indy 500 champions Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, and Alexander Rossi as he begins to test Verizon IndyCar Series cars and inches closer to his dream. With success on the horizon, Kellett fully appreciates the unique experience that brought him to this point.

“I was able to balance racing and school and get through the four year engineering program at Queen’s. That’s something that’s pretty unique and not many drivers can say that they’ve done, so that’s definitely something that makes me happy.”