Patrick Kelly’s path to the LMP2 class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been far from conventional.
The 52-year-old video game developer, who serves as the studio head and creative director for Infinity Ward, creators of the Call of Duty franchise, has found his way back to IMSA competition after nearly a decade away.
Kelly, who was an active participant in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama in the late 2000s and competed in the 2010 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in an Alex Job Racing-run entry in GTC, was sidelined for nearly nine years due to a road car accident.
It came just after purchasing a LMPC car, with plans to step up to the single-make class in the American Le Mans Series.
“I was driving my son to a play date one morning, because they had parent-teacher conferences, and a different school that had school, the school bus driver just dropped all the students off,” Kelly explained.
“He was distracted and there was a car in front of the bus that stopped because that car was yielding. They were stopped to make a left-hand turn and were yielding to me coming other way.
“When he noticed the car, he swerved the bus and he swerved it into oncoming traffic, which hit me head-on.”
Kelly had multiple fractures including to his knee and elbow, but more seriously, sustained a brain injury as well.
“I didn’t think I’d ever drive again,” he said. “I lost all of my memory. I didn’t know what I did for a living. I didn’t know where I lived. I didn’t know any of those kinds of things.
“I was told [racing] is my your rear-view mirror and then lo and behold hold three years ago, my MRI cleared and the neurologist said, ‘Look I think you’re nuts but you’re cleared to return to racing.'”
He then reconnected with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team principal Bobby Oergel and climbed back behind the wheel, initially in IMSA Prototype Challenge before making his LMP2 debut at Road America last year, which he won alongside the team’s full-season driver and eventual class champion Matt McMurry.
Kelly comes full circle this weekend, returning to the four-mile Wisconsin circuit as the LMP2 points leader after claiming top class honors at Sebring.
He will share the No. 52 Oreca 07 Gibson with Simon Trummer, after IndyCar ace Spencer Pigot subbed for the Swiss driver in Florida.
“Last year we won Road America because of Matt McMurry,” Kelly admitted. “I had come out of a LMP3 car and it was really the second time I had ever been in a LMP2 car. Man, what a step LMP2 is from LMP3.
“It was an eye-opener, especially at Road America in that car.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. I know the track. I’m originally from Minnesota. Other than Brainerd, Road America was the next-closest track for me.”
‘Day Job’ Developing Video Games Requires “A lot of Research”
Now living in Santa Monica, Calif., Kelly helps lead the team behind one of the most popular video game franchises in the world.
The recently released Call of Duty: Warzone title has more than 50 active million players.
“When I’m not thinking about racing, I’m thinking about making video games,” Kelly said.
“My primary role is creative director. There’s a lot of writing up designs for things, meeting with other creative partners in the studio that work on the content, prototyping things.
“Quite frankly, we do a lot of research, be it with Navy SEALs, people that are retired from the intelligence community. I was even at CIA in Langley (Virginia) for a day for the last game.
“We try to be at least somewhat grounded in the reality of the world around you to reflect the world we live in.”
Kelly on Road to Le Mans
While set for a full season of LMP2 racing with PR1/Mathaisen, Kelly is hoping to make his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year, which could come through winning IMSA’s Trueman Award that hands out an automatic invite to the French endurance classic.
“I really want to go to Le Mans next year,” he said. “I did not pursue it this year because I didn’t feel [ready].
“I’ve been out of the car for a number of years. I didn’t think it was prudent to jump back and try and buy a ride at Le Mans.
“I want to get a season under my belt here, hopefully secure an invite, but one way or another, find my way to Le Mans.”
Kelly said his return to racing has helped fill a void in his life.
“As much as I tried to rationalize [that] racing was something that was in my past, I missed it so badly.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am.”