The motorsports world is an ultra-competitive place. Each weekend at tracks around the country, modern-day gladiators go into battle in 2300-lb race cars that are powered by 800 horsepower engines.
With thousands of racers strewn across the United States, it’s tough to achieve greatness on even the local level. To reach goals on the regional scene is exponentially harder. However, that’s just what Tanner Kellick of Mer Rouge accomplished in 2018.
The 21-year-old competitor overcame adversity and tough competition to claim the 2018 Rookie of the Year title with the COMP Cams Super Dirt Series (CCSDS) Super Late Models. Kellick’s pursuit of the coveted award spanned nine months. His journey took him to tracks in Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana.
“People don’t realize just how hard it is to compete on a tour like this,” Kellick said in regard to the CCSDS. “There’s so much travel and sleepless nights, and that doesn’t even include how grueling it can be at the track. When you’re having a night where you are running bad, and you are eight hours from home, it just makes it that much tougher. However, we never gave up last year and were able to get the job done.”
Even though he’s only in his early 20’s, Tanner has already been racing for over eight years. While his current dreams transpire on the dirt track circuit, it’s not where he originally began his driving career in 2008.
“When I first started racing, I actually raced on asphalt,” Kellick recollected. “I was racing in a division, called the Bandoleros, at Monroe Motor Speedway. The track surface was asphalt, and honestly asphalt racing was about all I had paid attention to at that point. My heroes were guys like Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt. I really liked those two because every time they hit the track, they were out to prove a point.”
While Kellick is most well-known as a soft-spoken competitor off the track, he’s a different person in the driver’s seat. He’s a throttle masher, who is known for his up-on-the-wheel style.
“I guess you could say the driver’s seat is where I best express myself,” Kellick notes. “I feel comfortable there, and the thrill of racing always gets my adrenaline pumping.”
As previously mentioned, Kellick’s career began in the pavement world, but it quickly evolved into the dirt ranks.
“We had a lot of success that first year in the Bandolero and won the track championship at Monroe Motor Speedway,” Kellick revealed. “That next winter we bought a Limited Modified and began running at Chatham Speedway. We finished ninth in points our first year on dirt, but I was instantly hooked on that style of racing. I guess you could say the rest is history.”
After a few years in the Limited Modified division, Kellick progressed into Dirt Late Models.
“As tough as the Limited Modified division was, I quickly learned that the Dirt Late Model class was that much tougher. However, I did enjoy the feel of the cars,” Kellick noted. “We took our lumps and learned what we could those first few years. It was definitely a whole new challenge.”
In 2017, Kellick made his first venture onto the road with the CCSDS Super Late Models. He tossed his name into the ring as a contender for the Rookie of the Year title. Unfortunately, mechanical failures and other bad luck prevented him from reaching his goal.
“We started the year pretty good that first season with the COMP Cams Series, but we encountered a lot of bad luck the last half of the year,” Kellick said. “We just got buried in points and couldn’t rebound. Luckily, the Rookie of the Year deal with the tour allows you to run it twice. As a result, we decided to go after the title again in 2018. While it wasn’t easy, we were much better prepared this year. We had notes from just about every track that we went to, which was huge.”
While Tanner was able to achieve his goal, he and his team still had to face considerable challenges and adversity.
“It’s tough because a lot of nights it’s just me and my dad at the track, so if you break something it leaves you scrambling to get it fixed in time,” Kellick said. “Even on the best of nights it can be a battle. I honestly can’t say enough about my dad (Randy Kellick). He works his tail off all week on the family farm, and then he finds time to travel around the country with me on the weekends. I honestly don’t know how he does it sometimes.”
Not only did Tanner win the CCSDS Rookie of the Year honor, he also finished fifth in the final overall series standings. That along with an early-season accomplishment out West ranked as his proudest accolades of the 2018 campaign.
“We actually started the year out in Phoenix, Arizona running the Wild West Shootout, and against some of the best drivers in the country we qualified for three of the six main events. Then, to run so good with the COMP Cams Series and get the Rookie of the Year title, made the season just that much more special," Kellick said.
For 2019, there will be a change of pace for Kellick Motorsports as they plan to race closer to home on a more frequent basis.
“The folks with the COMP Cams Series have been great to us, but this year we are going to focus on the Louisiana Late Model Series championship,” Kellick revealed. “A lot of those races are closer to home for us. My grandparents try to make every race, but this past year they had some health issues that kept them from seeing me race very much. This year with us running closer to home, they’ll get more chances to see us race.
“When not running with the Louisiana Late Model Series, I plan to run as many COMP Cams Series events as I can, and then some crown jewels like the Topless 100 at Show Me 100.”
The talented, young competitor wraps up his thoughts by thanking everyone, who helped him achieve his dreams this season.
“I’ve got so many great sponsors and supporters,” Kellick commented. “I want to thank my family and friends as well as everyone at my church, Bonne Idee Assembly of God. When the chips are stacked against us, they are still there to show us support and love. I also want to thank Kellick Farms, Juanito’s Mexican Restaurant, Green Point Ag and Johnny’s Pizza. They all help keep my racecar on the track each week.”
With the 2019 season just getting underway, one thing is for sure — it will be interesting to see what Tanner Kellick can accomplish next.