Indy Lights driver Dalton Kellett is working to join fellow Canadians James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens, and Zachary Claman De Melo in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year.
And while that work continues behind the scenes, he’s getting a head start on an important program he plans to carry forward that launches during this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto event.
The Andretti Autosport driver is one of relatively few open-wheel drivers to have pursued higher education while chasing his IndyCar dream. With a degree in engineering physics from the Ontario, Canada-based Queen’s University, the 24-year-old has joined forces with TEN80 Education to bring awareness to its STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education programs.
Following the STEM groundwork laid years ago by IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand, Kellett says marrying racing and advanced scholastic endeavors is a natural cause to support — even at the Mazda Road To Indy level.
“What I fall back on is a lot of time is spent as an athlete thinking about yourself; it’s a very self-centered activity,” he told RACER. “We’re there putting on a show for fans, but it’s also imperative for athletes to leverage their platforms to engage kids and use it for something good. And for me, it’s STEM education. That’s what I’ve dedicated my education towards. And working with TEN80, I want to give back and help to introduce more kids to STEM through racing.
“TEN80 is the overarching charity that develops the programs, and we’re working to promote an initiative called the National STEM League (similar to Formula SAE) that’s more high school level than university level. It’s building and competing with remote control cars, and there’s also a business development side to find the money to compete.
“It’s a bunch of great extracurricular activities where schools compete against schools and earn points in a championship like you’d have in IndyCar. So I’ve become a spokesperson for this and I’ll be working to tie this in with an IndyCar program next year and hold events at some of the IndyCar races.”
At an early age, Kellett also recognized that having a backup plan for life after motor racing was incredibly important.
“Early on I always had to balance school with racing, and doing them in tandem, both needed to be done at a very high level, which was important to me,” he said. “My grandfather got into manufacturing and invented some products for utilities, my dad’s an engineer, so I was raised in a very tech-driven family, and always wanted to be in engineer.”
“In karting, I saw a lot of kids that were older than me that didn’t make it and were stuck coaching, and that’s fine, but I wanted to have a secondary plan so I applied to university, went to Queen’s, and all my time in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, and my first season of Indy Lights was involved in completing my engineering physics major.
“Combining the two is a big part of my brand, and you can’t bank on a racing career panning out or lasting as long as someone like Tony Kanaan. A professional athlete has a time limit on their career, so having some professional qualifications to use in another career is a great idea.”