Brian, the 'other' Keselowski (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
While Brad Keselowski was busy aggravating Carl Edwards and making the most of his Sprint Cup ride with Roger Penske and winning the Nationwide championship, brother Brian was back home still trying to launch his racing career.
Well, in Thursday's 150 Brian, with an unexpected push from Brad, squeezed into the Daytona 500, in a remarkable underdog performance.
And Friday morning Brian Keselowski was at his Daytona 500 car bright and early polishing it and cleaning the grill. He's only got a two-man operations, and he had checked out of his hotel Thursday morning figuring he wouldn't make the 500, so he had had to scramble Thursday night to find a place to park his operation for the duration of SpeedWeeks.
Can Brian, 29, turn this golden opportunity into something bigger?
Well, Brad, just turned 27, has managed to do that, coming almost from out of nowhere and turning that 2009 Talladega Cup win with James Finch, in that infamous finish with Carl Edwards, into a full-time Cup ride this season with legendary Roger Penske.
Brian Keselowski's story is straight old-school NASCAR, stuff not seen around here in years, with all these multi-million-dollar operations.
Improbable doesn't really describe it.
"It feels absolutely awesome," Brian says of his first 500. "We struggled just to even get here.
"It says the independent guy that can find a race car, put it together, get a good push…everybody's got a chance at that. I hope that it proves that everybody got just as good a shot as I do."
Brian's story is rags-to-riches: "Growing up….I couldn't afford to go racing. I worked on my family's truck team. I didn't get to start driving till I was 18. By then, he had two or three years of experience, winning championships.
"My dad made me build the thing from the ground up. They pushed me in the right direction, my uncle, mom and dad. But I had to do it all on my own. Bought my own truck and trailer, racecars. They helped…gave me a motor. If I didn't put it together, I wasn't going racing.
"That's a lot like it is right now. Honestly it's just me and my dad. My uncle came down and helped me. Without a lot of friends and family, we wouldn't be here."
Ironically Brian Keselowski had a Daytona Nationwide deal two years ago, but he'd missed qualifying for that race, "so they put Brad in the car. I guess the rest is history.
"I feel if roles could have been reversed, there's a possibility I could be in the same position he's in now. I would have liked the chance."
The Keselowskis, from Michigan, are not unknowns by any means. Keselowski's father, Bob, was a well-known ARCA racer for years, won a bunch of races, but never made the jump up. Bob's older brother Ron ran the NASCAR Cup tour in the early 1970s, though with little great success.
But it has been Brad Keselowski who has taken the family's racing fortunes to new heights.
Now Brian offers a different side of this sporting life: "As of a week ago, it was just two of us working on the cars. I had a couple guys working through the winter, but I just honestly couldn't afford to pay them anymore. They had to move on and do other things.
"It's just been me and my dad. I called my uncle in the middle of last week and said I really need the help. He said 'I'm coming down.' He got here it was like 'Oh, geez, we're going to have to build the car at the track.'"
Bob has a lot ahead of him in the coming days – including a trip to the Mayo Clinic for some surgery.
But first, the Daytona 500, with both sons in the field.
Brian's car itself is a collector's edition -- an old Ray Evernham Dodge, a very old Evernham Dodge, like a 2006 model, bought two years ago.
In practice runs Brian Keselowski, who moved to North Carolina last year and lives in brother Brad's townhouse, on a piece of property owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., has been one of the slowest here.
Brian's big break Thursday, ironically, was brother Brad's misfortune. Brad spun out and found himself stuck back in the pack. "When Brad got back there, I knew this was our chance," Brian said. "If there's anybody that's going to push me, it would be Brad. If there was anybody else, there was no way they were going to stay on my rear bumper the way that he did."
Brian, 2-1/2 years older than Brad, has watched his kid brother's success perhaps with some envy: "How last Brad changed? He hasn't changed at all. That's how he's always been. He's always been kind of a snotty little kid."
And Brian laughed good-naturedly.
"Brad has tried to help me out a little bit this winter…because it's been a very tough winter," Brian said. "We were lucky just to survive through the winter, let alone come down here.
"As of Wednesday, I didn't know if we were going to make it.
"Now you're in the race -- it's amazing."
Before the 150 Brian told Brad "If you can get behind me and push me, that's great.
"He's like 'I don't think you're fast enough.'
"I'm like 'You're right.'
"He gave me some tips, about where I needed to stay on the track, what I needed to do to my car to keep it in line, to make sure if there was anybody behind me to keep nice and steady."
And now, regardless of how Sunday goes, Brian Keselowski is looking forward to a $250,000 payday.
And he and his father may have to stretch that for a while. "If there's anybody that can stretch money, that's us," Brian said. "My dad has been doing that for years.
"That's how we've always had to race.
"Until we got a little bit of decent sponsorship in the Truck and ARCA, man, we struggled.
"That's all we've ever done, really since the '60s.
"It means I can pay my bills off finally. It's been a really rough winter, I'm telling you. It means I get to go to Phoenix next week.
"I told everybody this is going to work, just hold on, please help…and they did. So thank the Lord."
Here's an idea for your consideration:
Revive the IROC.
Remember the good ol' International Race of Champions?
A dozen drivers, in identically prepared cars, in four sprints at various NASCAR tracks.
Dave Marcis made a career almost out of preparing those cars, trying to make each one perform just like the next one.
Maybe we're jaded now, but that first IROC with Camaros at Daytona back in 1975 was a work of art….like nothing we'd ever seen. A huge (by the day's standards) draft…..in all these candy-colored rainbow cars.
The first years Goodyear – when it had the Formula One world at hand, with driver contracts the company could use to arm-twist – helped provide the 'international' by bringing in world-class stars like Emerson Fittipaldi.
Yes, the 'international' part of all this faded eventually. And so did the Indy-car world part of it. At one time it was Formula One versus NASCAR versus Indy-car – back when Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti and the guys were hot – versus whoever else promoter Les Richter and Roger Penske could drum up.
Like many things in this sport, it waxed and waned, and got too outlandish at times.
But the heart of it was pretty neat.
So what we propose is a new IROC, with a couple of twists:
Let's put the car makers right in the middle of it – let's make this IROC Ford versus Chevrolet versus Dodge versus Toyota.
But muscle cars. No Belvederes need apply.
Spunky, flashy. Short, quick and sassy.
Each car maker picks three of its own drivers for the 12-man field.
Say Ford picks Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Chevy picks Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and, hey, Juan Pablo Montoya maybe.
Toyota picks Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
Dodge picks Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon.
And each car maker provides its own cars. Ford, the Mustang; Chevy, the Camaro; Dodge, the Charger; Toyota, whatever.
And each car maker – as part of the contract – gets to logo its particular muscle car with the IROC logo, like Chevy did with those IROC-Zs of years ago.
Each car maker also provides all the engines.
Remember, taking a page from the old IROC, these cars don't have to be fast. In fact some of those Daytona IROC races were at speeds of like 175 mph. As long as everyone has the same stuff, it's all equal.
All NASCAR has to do is come up with a TV package. The car makers provide the TV ads.
And all four races have to be live.
Four sprints: Daytona during SpeedWeeks. California. Michigan. Talladega in the fall. Simple, quick 100-milers, or 150-milers, packaged into a one-hour made-for-TV format.
Remember some of those classic IROC races.
-- Dale Earnhardt turning Al Unser Jr. into the backstretch wall and laughing about it.
-- Mario Andretti wiping out the entire fleet of Banjo Matthews' IROC car on the last lap at Atlanta.
-- Those stunning moves Earnhardt made at Daytona, into holes that simply didn't exist….
Alas, the old IROC died an ungraceful death in 2007….
But it was great while it lasted.
Mark Martin still counts his IROC championships as most prized.
And Robby Gordon just the other day was recalling how he used IROC to get an invite to NASCAR.
The old IROC series made all the mistakes; mid-size tracks simply didn't work, nor did road courses. Of course, maybe today some odd tracks might work. Maybe Richmond, maybe Atlanta, maybe Texas.
And with the new IROC, maybe make it a Baker's Dozen, and throw in a wild card.
Wonder if Michael Schumacher might be interested?
Tell Juan Pablo to give him a call. This stuff can really be fun, you know.
The IROC series might be something whose time has come again.
Where is Dave Marcis these days anyway?
Looks like good advertising space is still available on Brian Keselowski's Daytona 500 car (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)