By Holly Cain
In some ways Patrick Kelly’s full-speed, full-sensory IMSA racing career is a lot like the wildly popular video games such as "Call of Duty" that he creates in his 9-to-5 existence back home in California. He has been a force of can-do.
The 52-year old Minnesota-native has overcome great trial and tribulation – from surviving massive injuries in a street car accident with a distracted school bus driver, nearly a decade ago, to being by his wife’s side as she valiantly battled pancreatic cancer before passing away this March. Even one of those two life-changing events would be enough to dampen the spirit of most, but Kelly is proving what indomitable willpower and dedication to his racing craft can yield.
Being behind the wheel of the No. 52 PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this year has been both an understandable escape and a heart-turning triumph for Kelly, whose career outside a race car is serving as the co-studio head for Infinity Ward and specifically the creative director for "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare" and "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" video games.
Perhaps the very skills that helped him create such popular games have helped in some ways as he forges a path racing in IMSA.
Kelly hoisted the LMP2 class trophy at the iconic Sebring International Raceway last month after starting the race from the pole position. And this past weekend at Road America, he won his second consecutive Motul Pole Award in qualifying for the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin race – only to have his team sidelined in a late race incident on the rainy race day.
"My story is a bit beyond belief in some ways,” Kelly freely concedes.
The Road America course, in particular, holds a significant place in his heart. Last year, his wife of 23 years, Suruchi, was there for the race even while in the middle of cancer chemotherapy treatments. Donning a head scarf and wide smile, she was trackside as her husband earned his first WeatherTech Championship race victory, co-driving with Matthew McMurry in the LMP2 class.
The photos of the victory celebration show an exuberant Kelly. But what he remembers most is the pure joy he saw in Suruchi as they reveled in the triumph despite all she was going through physically.
"It was just … it was wonderful,” Kelly said, pausing as he recalled the day. "It was something that meant so much to me.
"She never quivered or caved [fighting cancer], she was always so even-keeled and didn’t get scared. Then I found out after she passed that she told other people she was so glad I got to do that race [at Road America] and that she was there with me because she knew how much I loved racing.”
That pure love of the sport is something Kelly has fostered for a lifetime. And the motivation to compete has benefitted him in unplanned ways. It has allowed him a focus that gave him strength to be there for his wife and the ability to persevere after his own horrifying car accident eight years ago which sidelined him from racing for years. When he finally got clearance from his doctors to race again two years ago, Kelly returned to the grid with new perspective and a renewed desire.
Racing was cathartic in ways he could never have anticipated.
"I’ve always been sort of a high energy and somewhat intense person,” Kelly allowed. "One of the things I’ve always loved about racing and being in a race car is when I’m doing that, no matter what is happening in my world, that is the only thing in my mind.”
In having that outlet, Kelly has overcome obstacles that would have completely convinced others to find a new adrenalin outlet.
"He has been through more than anyone should in such a short amount of time," said PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports team principal Bobby Oergel, "But the end game for him is his passion for racing is so deep. He just loves it. He works so hard to be as good as he can be every time.
"His abilities are amazing but that’s because he works very hard at them. His dedication and his attitude with the crew, the team and co-drivers, the fans, he’s that guy. To be fair, you really couldn’t ask for a more genuine situation.
"He puts it all on the sleeve and what you see is what you get."
More and more that includes trophies – the outcome of success in a sport has been a source of joy and diversion for Kelly. In turn, he’s showing others what the ability to persevere can produce.
"It’s the purest of passions of me,” Kelly said.