ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Taking his son to school nine years ago in his native Lake Minnetonka, Minn., Patrick Kelly was seriously injured in a crash that nearly took his life.
He was hit head-on by a school bus driver who was texting while driving and swerved into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, Kelly’s son was uninjured. However, the prognosis for Kelly was bleak.
“They struggled to revive me,” he said.
Kelly suffered a significant brain injury and one of his knees was crushed. Eventually, he was told he’d never race again.
“I had just bought an LMPC car,” Kelly said. “I had to sell the car. I didn’t think I was ever going to return to racing.”
For seven years, he was told that he needed to forget about racing.
“Racing cars is definitely not in your future. It’s not something you’re going to be able to do,” Kelly said people told him. “There’s no way.”
On Sunday, in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship’s Road Race Showcase at Road America, Kelly and co-driver Matthew McMurry took the checkered flag in the LMP2 class.
When the race was over, Kelly said he felt numb, thinking about the long, long road to recovery, which culminated with a spot on the top step of the podium at Road America.
“It’s hard to describe in words how I feel,” Kelly said, adding, “It was hard to stay relaxed.”
About two years ago – seven years since the crash – an MRI showed enough significant improvement and he was given the OK to pursue racing again. That was the first time since the near fatal crash serious thought was given to racing.
“Every year we’d do the functional MRIs and every year things started to get better and better,” Kelly said. “I was very careful not to bump my head because they talked about how what you really need is time without an impact or acceleration or deceleration to heal a brain injury.
“Sure enough, I got cleared and they told me have at it.”
Then, he had another challenge ahead of him.
“How am I going to talk my wife into this?” Kelly said he remembered telling himself on what he needed to do to return to racing.
The conversation went OK.
“At first we just talked about doing track days,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘You know what. I’m just going to do some testing. I love being in a race car. There’s nothing in the world I love more.’”
He likes to play video games. But racing is what he loves.
“I can’t tell you much I genuinely love it,” Kelly said. “My wife went along with that.”
Coming back to racing was exciting, but, in hindsight, he admitted Road America probably wasn’t the best race track to make his return at because of the high speeds. His biggest worry was passing and managing traffic. He was also concerned about maintaining a rhythm and not get too excited.
Holding a first-place trophy, his smile showed it was indeed the right decision.
“I can’t tell you what an incredible rush and excitement it is to win at this track,” Kelly said. “It’s a bit humbling.”