Having his feet in two different worlds defines Dalton Kellett, Sc’15, whether he’s the IndyCar driver screaming around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 385 kilometres per hour or the engineer inspiring schoolchildren to go into STEM programs.
For Mr. Kellett, it’s about balancing his Queen’s engineering foundation with his driving experience and finding ways to get the most out of both in different situations.
“People will ask me, ‘How does the engineering stuff sort of help your career?’ and it’s kind of gone both ways,” Mr. Kellett says.
“When I was in school, I think I was really trying to be super technical about everything, but as I got older and matured, I was able to better identify where the engineering mindset is helpful and then where I have to be a driver, and it just took me time to kind of figure that out, but it’s part of the process.”
By the time Mr. Kellett enrolled at Queen’s, he already had several years of racing under his belt and hoped to pursue his studies without knocking his burgeoning driving career off track. While he found his professors open to his desire to keep one foot on the gas and the other in class, they made the priority clear: academics come first.
Dalton Kellett at the Texas Motor Speedway, March 9, 2022.
Luckily, those two worlds collided perfectly in the university’s Formula SAE program, where students design and build a race car and then compete against other schools from around the world.
“Obviously, what you learn in class is critical, but having a practical application where you can use those lessons right away is a great way to reinforce what you’re learning – at least for how my mind works,” Mr. Kellett says.
“I was into math and physics, but I just had never really considered computer programming. But once I realized what we could do with it as far as some analysis on the Formula SAE car, it piqued my interest and then it was almost a way of inspiring me to do better in my academic classes by seeing a practical application.”
As an IndyCar driver, Mr. Kellett uses that role to inspire youngsters in the U.S. to pursue math and science through his work as a brand ambassador for the InterNational STEM League and the iNSL iRacing Student Innovation Challenge.
“If you’re a public figure, I believe that you have some imperative to use that which has been given to you to kind of help out a bit and you have to choose a cause and, for me, that’s STEM and education and I think we could all benefit a little bit from that,” Mr. Kellett says.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to use my platform to hopefully inspire kids to go into STEM and give back a little bit,” he says.
The 28-year-old from Stouffville, Ont., embarked on his second full season with A.J. Foyt Racing in February. Although all teams use the same specification car, the rules allow development in certain areas, which can put smaller-budget teams like A. J. Foyt Racing at a disadvantage. That’s why Mr. Kellett’s spot on the starting grid for May’s Indianapolis 500 remains far from guaranteed, because more cars than the 33 available spots usually show up to qualify. Although Mr. Kellett made it into the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in his two previous qualifying attempts, one of his teammates missed the cut last year. In his two starts in the 200-lap race, he finished 31st in 2020 due an accident and then 23rd last year.
Although his immediate focus is racing and using his engineering background to help get the most from his car, Mr. Kellett dreams that his degree will help him get both feet out of this world altogether.
“Realistically, once I’m done driving, I think I’d want a different challenge in a different industry and racing may be something I come back to later in life,” he says.
“I’m passionate [about] and fascinated by aerospace and space travel, so if the Canadian Space Agency is ever hiring, I think maybe I’d throw an application in. With my racing and technical background, I think there’s probably more crossover in those two fields of work than people realize. It would be a fun career path, but obviously a very small group of people get to do that.”