Kelsey Kirby is 25 years old from Rathvilly, Co. Carlow in Ireland. Kelsey is a mentor on the Go Girls STEM program, a previous competitor of the Formula Woman competition and a current competitor in the ICCR (Irish championship of Circuit racing), but it is Kelsey's passion, her attitude and her effort to follow her dreams that makes her a real go getter.
Kelsey's first introduction to Motorsport was at 15 when she began watching freestyle Motocross. She remembers being "totally obsessed with Redbull X fighters, Nitro Circus and Travis Pastrana". She also remembers Jolene Van Vugt, a stunt woman with multiple Guinness world records for crazy motocross tricks and the only female of the Nitro circus group. Kelsey highlights the impact Jolene had on her at the time.
"Jolene was the first real female I saw in motorsport. Her talent showed me that women can be just as good as men in these sorts of extreme sports. I think seeing such a strong female in motorsport when I was younger helped me not shy away from it when I decided to actually get involved in the sport myself"
However, at the time, Kelsey's main passion was music. She studied sound engineering before joining a band where they she played at Electric Picnic, the biggest music festival in Ireland.
But in June 2021 at the age of 24, Kelsey made the decision to pursue her Motorsport passion. It came during lockdown after losing her cousin in an accident.
"He was only in his 30s, he had a wife and two very young kids, and unfortunately is the second family member we have lost at a young age. It was a real eye opener. It reminded me that you never know what is coming next or what might happen in your life so you should make every single second count! So I want to take every single opportunity that comes my way now and try to make the most out of everything I do"
It was a big decision considering no experience or background in the sport. Kelsey signed up for the Formula Woman competition after treating herself to a Mondello Park experience day for her birthday. Every euro she earned as a waitress in her local pub was spent on days at Mondello to prepare and learn as much as she could before the Formula Woman assessment. Mondello Park offered a huge amount of support during those test days by providing driving tuition and track time to help accelerate her development.
Putting herself forward for every opportunity, Kelsey decided to join Formula Female for the Tillotson T4 Karting World Cup, another deep dive into the unknown for Kelsey as she took on her first ever experience of racing karts, but it did not phase her and it was just another opportunity to continue to learn and improve.
"That weekend was scary and exciting racing against all these amazing drivers from all over the world. I didn’t win anything but I learned a lot and each session I improved. Formula Female gave me that confidence boost and introduced me to all these girls that were either all only new to the sport or absolutely smashing it out on track and competing for the top spots. That weekend was one of my highlights of 2021"
Unfortunately, Kelsey didn't make it through to the Formula Woman finals but it wasn't going to stop her as she took those learnings and experience to move onto another route.
"I was really disappointed not to make the Formula Woman Finals because I had worked so hard doing as much training on and off the track as possible, but I knew that I wasn't going to give up and let all this work go to waste"
After this, Kelsey joined the Formula Female Go Girls Karting & STEM program as a mentor and developed a whole new set of skills during this time.
"Working with Go Girls was a fantastic opportunity to teach school girls all over Ireland about the sport. It was so great to watch them get engaged in the activities throughout the day and to see how excited they were. I loved the fact that I played a small role in another girls decision to get into racing or to study STEM subjects. It is something I am very proud of and made me realise that I have so much more to learn about mechanics myself"
More strings added to her bow, Kelsey decided to further develop her knowledge of mechanics and engineering by going back to study at the same time as purchasing her first racing car.
Her effort and commitment to achieve her goals is extremely admirable. Working everyday so she can afford to buy a racing car, spending her time outside of working to learn how to run the car and maintain it, while never allowing the overwhelming feeling of such a steep learning curve turn her off.
Having spent countless hours and money getting her car to race prepared spec, Kelsey took to the track for her first race with her dad as her sole helping hand.
"I completed a few test days just to get comfortable in the car before we showed up at the first race. Myself and my dad showed up with just a bare bones of a tool box, just about enough to get us through the day. We had no chairs to sit on between sessions, so we either sat in the car or sat on the spare wheels. Real rookies!!"
Kelsey reflects on her first impressions of her first outing.
"The first thing I noticed was how few women racing there was. There was just me and one other girl which was a bit of a shock to me. The support from the majority of the people around me was absolutely amazing but of course you will always have one or two people who won’t share the same support, but overall my first weekend was a success, I qualified well, had some really great battles in both races and I learned a lot"
Kelsey would go from strength to strength with each round, building her confidence and her experience.
"I started achieving rookie podiums even though I was racing against men who had been competing in this class for many years. These guys were such great supporters though and even voiced their opinion that they would like to see more woman out racing"
During her racing season, she also put herself forward to marshall at some of the Mondello Park events.
"I really enjoyed seeing the driving from the other side and not from in the car. I was actually learning a few things from watching other drivers on track"
Kelsey would end the year as the only female to stand on the ICCR podium with four rookie podiums.
"From never having seen a racetrack at the start of 2021 to now being a racing driver in 2022.
Through the year I managed to gain some amazing support and got some great sponsors on board. Elk Recruitment, Selco Hygiene, ZSigns Online Ltd., Mondello Park and Finlay Sandblasting and respraying all supported me in different ways throughout the year and none of my racing or achievements would have been possible without them. They decided to back someone who had never raced before and believed I could get results which I
believe I did. And for that I will be forever grateful to them for being the ones who made it all possible.
Kelsey also opened up about being a female in the sport and how her perception of the sport has changed since beginning her journey.
"Of course it is still a male dominated sport but we are seeing more and more women joining different categories of motorsport which is great to see so hopefully it means down the line there are more women seeing this happening and decide that they can do it too"
"There still were a few people who didn’t want to acknowledge that I was doing well and unfortunately that was to be expected. These situations made me put my head down and work even harder. I want to prove to these people who think I won’t succeed that I have the determination and ability to succeed no matter what anyone else thinks. Hard work pays off".
Her hard work even landed her a job as a driving instructor in Mondello for the Formula Race Thrill and the Early Drive Experience.
"I am really enjoying this new role. The best part of the day is when you have a customer who comes back in and is so happy with the whole experience and you see the massive smile on their face after getting out of the single seater race car"