1950 Formula 1

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Ireland Joe Kelly

1951Alta Alta 1.5 L4sGP Formula 1 image Joe Kelly 
1950Alta Alta 1.5 L4s Formula 1 image Joe Kelly 

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1951 Formula One Season
By Jeremy McMullen

When people think of the Irish they usually come to think of such adjectives as; tough, rough, even intimidating. Joe Kelly's racing style fit those adjectives. While not particularly successful in Formula One, Kelly lived larger than life. Part of the intrigue that surrounded Kelly's life was his willingness to not back down from a fight, or, controversy.

Kelly was born in 1913 in South America. Kelly's family moved to Dublin, Ireland, where Joe was raised. In time, Joe became a successful car dealer in Dublin. After World War II, Kelly took to motor racing, using his finances from his car dealerships to fund his racing interests.

Joe competed in a few local races around Ireland, including the famous 'Curragh'. In 1948, Kelly appeared at the Curragh for the first time with one of his IRA cars, which stood for Irish Racing Automobile. Then, in 1949 Kelly set a speed record during the Wakefield Trophy race that would stand until 1954 when he broke his own record. In that race Kelly drove a Maserati, which was more of a purpose built car for the race than the normal sight of MGs and other 'specially designed' homebuilt machines.

Kelly crossed the Irish Sea and showed up at Silverstone in August of 1949 for the BRDC International Trophy race. Kelly arrived at the race with a Maserati 6CM. Kelly took part in the 2nd heat race. He qualified for the heat 16th. Kelly lasted 18 of the 20 lap heat race. However, Kelly was able to take part in the 30 lap final race. Kelly finished the race 16th overall, four laps behind the race winner Ascari. The event was marked by tragedy though as John Horsfall died in an accident during the 30 lap final race.

Kelly re-appeared at Silverstone the next year for the first event of the new World Championship. This was to be the only Formula Once championship race Kelly would compete in 1950. Joe arrived for the race with his familiar Alta GP3 (see Alta article) and qualified 19th for the race. He was a little over 15 seconds slower than Giuseppe Farina. This meant Joe started from the inside of the 6th and final row. However, Kelly was only able to complete 57 of the scheduled 70 laps. So, Kelly competed in only one Formula One race in 1950 and scored no points.

Despite the poor performance in the British Grand Prix, Kelly went on to enter a few other races in 1950 and had some success. Although crashing out of the Isle of Man non-championship grand prix, driving a Maserati 6CM, Kelly finished the Jersey street circuit in 8th in his Alta GP3. Kelly also finished 4th at Dundrod in August of that year. In September of 1950 Joe was close to winning the Curragh but was passed on the last lap and was beaten by less than a car length!

Perhaps, Kelly's career became more colorful after his foray into Formula One. At Dundrod, in 1952, Kelly finished 3rd in his Alta, which was later modified to become another IRA chassis. A normally aspirated 6 cylinder Bristol engine was put into his Alta to become an IRA. Kelly probably became most known for racing Jaguars around Irish race tracks, but, however, there were two events, in particular, for which Kelly would become famous.

At the Curragh in 1954, Kelly drove a Ferrari Monza, and with his popular aggressive and hard-charging style, he eclipsed his own track record. What is most interesting is that it is rumored that after the race, a race in which he caught air after hitting a bump with his Ferrari at high speed, Kelly promptly sold the Ferrari to Jaguar, giving them a personal look at their competition's engineering.

The other event for which Kelly is remember is the same event that brought his racing career to an end. While charging hard through the field at Oulton Park, Kelly got caught up in a three-car accident. Kelly suffered severe injuries and almost had to have one of his badly damaged legs amputated. This forced the businessman to get his priorities in order. Therefore, Kelly, for the most part, left motor racing to focus on his car dealership interests. Kelly did compete at some local hillclimbs, but nothing more than that.

Kelly's car dealerships flourished. He even had a Ferrari dealership at one time. Soon, Joe got into real estate trading. Kelly had an impressive portfolio consisting of homes he had owned at one time or another. This portfolio resulted from Kelly selling off his car showrooms and focusing on property dealing.

By the end of Kelly's life in 1993, he had amassed quite a large collection of rare and exotic cars. The collection included Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Rolls Royces.

Not one to back down from a challenge, this hard-charging style made Kelly famous and loved by his fellow Irishmen. Despite his fighting style, Kelly proved to have his wits about him and kept his priorities in order. Joe applied his never-give-up style to everything he did, and when combined with his real talents, he flourished. However, Kelly proved with an impressive car collection that once racing is in your blood, you may be able to walk away from it, but it never really leaves you.


'Drivers: Joe Kelly' ( GP Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-05-28.

'The Curragh' ( The Curragh. Retrieved 2010-05-28.

'Drivers: Joe Kelly' ( Retrieved 2010-05-28.

Wikipedia contributors, '1950 British Grand Prix', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 April 2010, 17:26 UTC, accessed 28 May 2010

Wikipedia contributors, 'Joe Kelly (racing driver)', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 April 2010, 12:55 UTC, accessed 28 May 2010