Drag Illustrated Issue 176, May / June 2022 - Page 112

Kelly Antonelli

Women of Power 2022


HE LONG-TERM success of any team relies

T heavily on structure and masterful direction of various moving pieces . Kelly Antonelli , now the Vice President of Racing Operations for the Tony Stewart Racing ( TSR ) nitro team , has made a career of conducting drag racing orchestras behind the scenes for some of the most impactful and successful teams in the industry .


“ I ’ ve worked in a variety of motorsports , and I always felt NHRA was the most welcoming ,” says Antonelli . “ They had the most to offer , from how the events are structured to how you could really take care of the sponsors . Everything is right at your fingertips instead of at arm ’ s length . This is always where my heart has been .”
Antonelli ’ s career began at Mac Tools , first as an intern in high school and college , then as a proper employee on a clear upward trajectory . At the age of 22 , her supervisor encouraged her to apply for an opening in marketing within the company ’ s motorsports division , and she got the job .
After six years in motorsports at Mac Tools , Antonelli found a new home at John Force Racing – initially focusing on licensing , marketing , and working with sponsors in the field , and ultimately acquiring an extended assortment of responsibilities that could no longer be defined by the initial parameters .
Antonelli was with John Force Racing from 1999 until the end of 2021 , when she accepted the position at TSR and the daunting task of helping to build a multi-car nitro team from the ground up .
“ This was not a decision I took lightly ,” says Antonelli , who is married to champion crew chief Dean Antonelli . “ I ’ d known John Force and his family since the Mac Tools days . But I felt this was a good opportunity for me that I didn ’ t want to pass up . I was leaving behind something that I felt I was a big part of , but I was leaving to be part of something new that was going to have a big impact on the sport .”
Her position at TSR combines all of Antonelli ’ s past roles at Mac Tools and JFR , and it ’ s been a pleasing challenge from the beginning . She brought vast experience to the table that allowed the team to grow wings in a very small window , and with their first season together in full swing , Antonelli now oversees the drag racing side of
the business for TSR as they continue to lay the foundation for the future .
“ Now that we ’ ve gotten through the upstart , we ’ re looking longer term – what we can do in the future and what we can improve on to bring extra value to our partners ,” says Antonelli . “ We want to continue to grow . From the day we walked in the door , Tony established a culture of ‘ one team , all team .’
“ One of the most important aspects within any team is valuing the employees and what they bring to the table , no matter what job they do , and making them feel like they ’ re part of a welcoming culture . I also think it ’ s important to make sure you ’ re always learning . That ’ s always been my goal : to learn and grow , to never get comfortable , and to always challenge myself to be better DI.”
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