Author: Timothy Pontzer

Date: Aug. 24, 2018

DEARBORN — A freakish hockey injury turned out to be crucial to the fate and future of Brad Keselowski.

A 2002 Rochester High grad, Keselowski vividly recalls taking a puck to the throat and his mother, Kay, passing along a mandate.

“My mom told me to try something safer, like racing,” Keselowski recalled with a laugh.

Auto racing was the family business. John Keselowski competed in motorcycles and cars in the 1960s, with his sons Bob (Brad’s father) and Ron (uncle) taking up the mantle. Dubbed K-Automotive, the Keselowskis had a race shop located in Auburn Hills with other outposts in Rochester on South Street and another in Lake Orion.

Bob Keselowski recorded 24 victories in the ARCA series and won the 1989 series title. He earned a victory in the NASCAR Truck Series in Richmond in 1997. Ron also raced, competing in NASCAR’s top tier, the Cup Series, where he notched 11 career top 10s.

“They were very important to me,” Brad Keselowski said of his father and uncle. “They gave me the basic racing knowledge I needed. They really helped me get my foot in this sport. I probably wouldn’t be here without them. I’m very thankful for what they taught me and the opportunity they provided.”

While growing up in his family home (which he recently purchased) near the corner of Auburn and Dequindre roads in Rochester Hills, Keselowski began working at the shop at age 12.

“I didn’t have an official title, but if there was one, it was basically janitor,” Keselowski said while chuckling. “I spent so much time there. I learned about the hard work it takes to become a driver.”

The upbringing and environment paid off. In 2004, at only 20 years old, Keselowski earned a ride in the Truck Series with K-Automotive. He began competing full time in NASCAR’s “minor league” circuit, now sponsored as the Xfinity Series, in 2007. He started his first race in the Cup Series, currently sponsored by Monster Energy, in 2008.

Currently only 34, Keselowski has recorded a victory and 15 top 10s in the Truck Series; 38 wins, 22 pole positions and 171 top 10s in the Xfinity Series; and 24 victories, 14 poles and 159 top 10s in the Monster Energy Series. He is one of only 31 drivers in the history of the sport to win at all three levels.

In 2010, he won the Xfinity Series championship. In 2012, he won the Cup Series title, becoming one of only four drivers to win championships in NASCAR’s top two tiers.

Keselowski reflected on his local roots while attending an Aug. 9 event at Ford’s world headquarters for the reveal of the new Mustang model that will debut in NASCAR next season.

“When I think of this area, I think about work ethic,” Keselowski said. “In anything you do, working hard and smart is so important. That is one of the bedrocks of this community. It’s one of the best things I took from it, and I still appreciate it and try to apply it to my life every day.”

Of the 13 drivers currently on Ford’s roster in the Cup Series, Keselowski is the only one with ties to the Motor City.

“I love coming back here,” Keselowski said. “I try to get back home when I can. I was here in the spring and fall. It’s great to see some sights and talk to some friends.”

Despite his busy schedule, Keselowski records each Michigan football game on DVR and watches every snap. His fellow drivers give his fandom a hard time, which also includes a strong affinity for the Lions, Tigers and Red Wings.

Reflecting on Rochester, Keselowski singled out Lipuma’s Coney Island and Big Boy as two of his favorite spots. In addition to his hockey career that was cut short, he played football, wrestling and track in middle school.

“When I got to high school, my dad was pretty clear,” Keselowski said. “Either I could race or I could do those other things. I wanted to race.”

The youngest of five, Keselowski has sisters that live in Clawson, Troy and Royal Oak. Coming up, he competed at tracks in Mount Clemens, Flat Rock, Flint and Toledo. He fondly remembers Michigan International Speedway as a kid, watching his father circle the two-mile oval and eventually racing there himself.

“I can still remember my first race there. My dad won in the ARCA and it was awesome,” Keselowski recalled. “Winning there in the Xfinity (in 2009) was a really big moment for me. I can only imagine what it would mean in the Cup. It’s my favorite, but it’s also the most stressful because it’s my home track.”

Keselowski placed second in the Consumers Energy 400 Aug. 12, one spot behind fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick. Despite earning the runner-up finish, Keselowski said it will fuel him for an eventual victory in his backyard.

“It’s just going to make me appreciate it more when we do win here,” Keselowski said in the post-race press conference. “I know it’s coming, and I’ve got to believe if we keep knocking on the door, eventually it’s going to fall in. I don’t know any better way to knock on the door than finishing second. I know in my heart that if we keep running like this, it will happen.”

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