Kelly Brown was born in Hollywood, Calif., and while he grew up in the San Fernando Valley, he retained his Hollywood roots by making his living in the movie and TV world as a producer, stunt driver and technical advisor.
However, before he entered into the stunt driving world, Kelly had already notched a very impressive record as a top race car shoe. Growing up, one of Kelly’s best friends was Don “Snake” Prudhomme’s brother, Manette Prudhomme, so he was exposed to drag racing and some of the early top competitors during his teens. One of his first efforts at drag racing was assisting Manette and Don run “The Snake’s” Buick-powered dragster at “The Pond” (San Fernando) one Sunday. From that day forward, he was hooked.
In 1964, Brown had his first ride in the seat of Mel Cohen’s “L&M Special” injected Chevy Junior Fuel dragster; and not long after that, another injected Chevy-powered Jr. Fueler owned by Vaughn Raviart. Kelly eventually moved into the driver’s seat of Art LeColst and Sonny Diaz’s blown Chrysler-powered AA/Gas Dragster.
Kelly secured his first Top Fuel win in 1966, in Vaughn Raviart and Art Tapper’s blown Chrysler AA/Fuel Dragster at the legendary Lions Drag Strip. After his first trip to victory circle, Kelly soon became a frequent visitor at Lions, driving for some of the sport’s legends including Jim Brisette, Lou Baney, Leland Kolb, Barry Setzer and Don Racheman.
In the 1971 season, Kelly briefly drove Barry Setzer’s blown Chrysler-powered Vega AA/Funny Car and notched a runner-up spot at the NHRA Springnationals. In 1973, he accepted the driving chores for Don Rackman’s Wonder Bread Vega wagon, but in a non-competitive car, it was a less than a fun season.
Making a living drag racing at that time was very difficult, and while known as an outstanding driver, Kelly was also involved in the film industry working in its production arena. Brown decided to spread out his career and joined the screen Actors Guild. Almost immediately, he was working as a full-time stunt driver in movies, television, and advertising commercials, and took a five year “vacation” from racing.
In 1978, with his stunt driving career doing very well, he returned to drag racing at the wheel of Jim Brisette and Mike Drake’s blown Chrysler AA/Fuel Dragster. The team started the ’78 season with an off-the-trailer qualifying run of 5.87 seconds at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and went on to win the event. Building on the outstanding debut, the team went on to runner-up at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and winning the Cajun Nationals in Baton Rouge, La., the Springnationals in Columbus, Oh. and the Molson Grandnationals in Sanair, Que., Canada, capped by Kelly’s first NHRA Winston World Championship title. He was named “Driver of the Year” and “Person of the Year” by Car Craft magazine, on its popular Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team.
The following year, Kelly moved to the driver’s seat of Bill Shultz’s “Over The Hill Gang” AA/Fuel Dragster winning the Gatornationals, the Cajun Nationals, the Mile High Nationals in Denver, Colo. and the US Nationals in Indianapolis, Ind.; and claimed the number two spot in the NHRA World Championship title.
After driving Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max AA/Fuel Dragster for part of the 1980 season, Kelly made the difficult decision to permanently retire from racing to concentrate on his film career. Kelly built a similar reputation in the film industry as a stunt driver, producer and technical adviser for various films, including his involvement in the Shirley Muldowney movie, “Heart Like a Wheel,” where Kelly provided a lot of the equipment, technical advice and driving time for making the movie.
Today Kelly enjoys complete retirement at his ranch in Northern California where he spends his time caring for his horses.