Joe Kelly (1913-1993) was an Irish businessman and racing driver who was active between 1949 and 1955, recording two starts in the Formula One World Championship, including participation in the 1950 British Grand Prix, the first ever Grand Prix race for championship points.
Successful car dealer became a racing driver
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Joe Kelly was a successful vehicle dealer who was using his money to finance his interest in motorsport. In August 1949, he participated in the inaugural BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone Circuit, driving a Maserati 6CM. The event was held over two heats of 20 laps and one final of 30 laps of the Grand Prix circuit. In the final, Kelly was 19th, four laps behind winner Alberto Ascari. In September, Kelly participated in one more Formula Libre race in an ERA single-seater.
Joe Kelly in the #23 Alta GP at 1950 British Grand Prix
Participant of the first ever Formula 1 Championship Grand Prix race
Next year, in May, he became a part of the history after participating in the first ever Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit. He was driving his own #23 Alta GP car, starting 23rd on the grid and racing for 57 laps before the race ended. Officially, he wasn't classified but he was 13th among 21 drivers.
During 1950, he scored some notable results in national Formula Libre races, finishing third at Phoenix Park in a Maserati and second at Wakefield Trophy in an Alta.
One more attempt at Silverstone's British Grand Prix
In July 1951, Kelly returned to Silverstone to participate in the British Grand Prix. He was driving the #5 Alta GP, not being classified again because he was fifteen laps behind race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez.
In 1952, Kelly has won some national events in an Alta GP car but his greatest success was the third place in the Ulster Trophy at Dundrod Circuit, behind Piero Taruffi and Mike Hawthorn.
Joe Kelly in a Ferrari 750
Hero of the crowd at The Curragh
In 1953, Kelly started to race in a Jaguar C-Type, using it in sports car races and Formula Libre events. One of those events was the Wakefield Trophy at the famous Curragh racecourse in Ireland. Kelly was a hero of the home crowd at The Curragh because he was a record lap holder with a Maserati. In 1954, he set a new lap record in a Ferrari.
Kelly is also remembered as an inventor of the Irish Racing Automobile (IRA). It was his modified Alta GP car with naturally-aspirated Bristol six-cylinder 2000cc engine.
One of the greatest Ireland's car collectors
The list of his cars has been expanded in 1954 with Ferrari 750 Monza in 1954 and with Frazer Nash Le Mans in 1955. His last race was the Tourist Trophy in September 1955. In the same year, following a serious accident at Oulton Park, Kelly ended his racing career.
However, he later appeared in some hill climbs with Porsche and Ferrari sports cars and he was regularly visiting historic meetings with his cars. He became one of the greatest car collectors in Ireland.