Life in the fast lane

Communications instructor’s passion for racing steers career

photo courtesy of Kelly Brown

Growing up, Kelly Brown thought the Indy 500 was a national holiday.

The instructor of communications was raised in a family that lived and breathed the smell of rubber burning on concrete racetracks. Living just north of Terre Haute, Brown and her family attended different kinds of racing, including dirt track and auto racing.    

“Everyone in my family were super fans,” Brown said. “My mother went to her first race when she was six months old.  They treated race day like it was the biggest deal in the world. So much of my passion for racing is because of my family.”

Before coming to teach at the university in the fall of 2017, Brown spent years doing PR work for multiple racecar series. Ironically, Brown never planned to become anything more than a devout fan of the sport.

“I had just gotten my bachelor’s degree at Indiana State in psychology and sociology if you want to talk about a twist of fate, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Brown said. “I ran into this guy who worked at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I just had a conversation with him and he was like, you know, from this conversation, I know I don’t know you that well, but I think you need to go back to school and pursue PR because I think you would be a great PR person for this sport. I was like ‘Oh, okay, that would be fun.’”

As Brown began pursuing her master’s in public relations, as well as her teaching internship at Indiana State University, Brown began to seek internships at various racetracks.

“I had been hired to intern at a small dirt track in Indiana, Lincoln Park Speedway, when I actually got a call from Daytona International Speedway down in Florida,” Brown said. “The head of the department called me and was like ‘Hey we don’t have an intern this summer. We didn’t get our paperwork in on the website, but we have the position, do you want to come down?’ So, in two weeks I moved to Florida.”

Brown began doing PR work and managing small events at the track. From that point on, she said it was dominos falling into place.

“My first job out of college was being a communications coordinator and news associate for what is now known as the Indycar series,” Brown said. “They had around 20 events a year around Mexico, Australia, United States, Canada and Europe. I got the opportunity to travel around quite a bit.”

Brown began an independent campaign called Hometown Heroes. After finding independent drivers and groups who raised money for series, Brown pitched stories about their experiences racing on a much smaller scale.

“Over the years I’ve picked up different people: friends, friends’ husbands, who race and I help them out with social media and press releases as needed,” Brown said. “So even though I am a full-time teacher, I’m still doing this, as well as a lot of photography and social media for other racing events.”

Brown said when she tells students about her involvement in racing, they often look at her sideways.

“It can come as a surprise to some,” Brown said. “But I am used to that. I can remember being in high school and being able to talk to guys under a table about auto racing. They would always be surprised with how much I knew, but I just grew up learning about it.”

Tony Veneziano, communications director for SLS promotions, met Brown when she was interning at the Daytona 500.

“(Brown) would often help me and my team out with press releases,” Veneziano said. ”Sometimes in this job you need an extra hand, and she was always willing to lend one. The experience she has and the knowledge she has of racing was always welcome.”

Veneziano said Brown introduced him to new forms of racing.

“My uncle got me into racing about ten years ago,” Veneziano said. “Once you get it in your blood, you can’t get it out. I knew a little bit about other forms of racing like dirt track, but she definitely taught me some things I didn’t know before. She has grown up around it her whole life.”

Veneziano said he thinks it is vital that Brown is active in her field of study.

“There are things you can’t learn out of a book,” Veneziano said. “She has practical PR experience, and she is able to convey that to her students. That’s not something you can show from a PowerPoint. This is a  unique field to go into, and the fact that she is able to show her students she knows what she is talking about is going to give them such a better education.”