Engineering Grad Races in the Indy 500

Race car driver Dalton Kellett
Dalton Kellett finished 31st at this year's Indy 500. (Credit LAT Photo)
Dalton Kellett on the track
Dalton Kellett races around the track. He finished 31st at this year's Indy 500. (Credit LAT Photo)

When people think engineering, they usually picture someone building a bridge, and not a professional race car driver. Maybe that will change now that IndyCar driver and Queen’s engineering alumnus Dalton Kellett raced for the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23. He finished 31st in one of the world's most famous car racing events.

The Sc’15 graduate, who is in his rookie season as a driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, feels his engineering physics degree makes him a better driver.

“Having an engineering degree becomes more useful the higher you get in the sport,” says Kellett, who proudly notes he was a FREC in his second year of Queen’s engineering. “In the junior leagues, you are working with one race engineer and (the cars) are more fixed, you can’t do too much with them. But when you get to IndyCar, you have three to four engineers per car. You have to give them feedback on powertrain, suspension, dampers, and all that. So being able to speak their language in the communication process helps.”

Kellett and NASCAR Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman (Purdue University) are among the very few professional race car drivers who have a university degree.

Most up-and-coming drivers spend their time on the track, not in a classroom. Kellett did both. The spring racing series started halfway through the second semester. Fortunately Kellett’s professors were supportive and would allow him to hand in assignments early or take exams on different days.

“School and academics were always a priority growing up,” says Kellett. “I am really happy I pursued my education. My experience at Queen’s moulded who I am as a race car driver. Those four years at Queen’s were the hardest four years of my career because I had so much racing going on and the program wasn’t easy. But I have no regrets.”

Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Kevin Deluzio, Sc’88, is happy to know Queen’s played a part in Kellett’s journey.

“A Queen’s engineering degree can lead to many different opportunities, and thanks to Dalton, one of those opportunities now includes racing in the Indy 500,” says Dean Deluzio. “I hope he inspires other students and alumni to chase after their dreams, whether it’s on a race track or in their careers.”

COVID-19 is making it a difficult year to be a rookie driver. Events have been cancelled or postponed, and race weekends have been condensed to reduce the time officials and drivers are exposed to each other. As a rookie, getting experience is key to developing into a better racer, and the pandemic has limited Kellett’s time on the track.

Fortunately he has some legendary mentors. He used to race with Andretti Autosport, and this year switched to A.J. Foyt Racing, so he’s been able to learn from Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, and A.J. Foyt, team owners who were once star drivers. His Foyt racing teammate is Tony Kanaan, who won the Indy 500 in 2013.

Kellett officially finished 31st at this year's Indy 500 after crashing halfway through the race. As a rookie, Kellett’s season will not be measured by the number of checkered flags he wins. It’s all about learning and becoming a better driver.

“We are going to be trying as hard as we can. That’s the goal every time we get in the car,” Kellett says. “The big goal for this season is maximizing the experience gained per lap and per hour of track time because it comes at such a premium. I need to trust the process as far as me getting used to the car and learn how to drive the car to get the most out of it.”