J. Michael Kelly, often known as just “JMK,” is one of the sport’s second most seasoned veteran drivers, now in his 13th year of racing H1 Unlimited hydroplanes. Driving for his fifth team in his career, Graham Trucking Racing, Kelly used all his experience to win one race in 2017 adding his career total to eight*, and placed second in three championship finals.
In what many say was the best start since the late Bill Muncey in the 1980s, the quiet and shy Kelly snookered the field in the Tri-Cities, Washington, last season. As three teams fought for the inside lane before the start of the championship final at the HAPO Columbia Cup, Kelly’s risky strategy was to let the other teams fight for lane one. This reduced his competitor’s speeds during the flying start. Often referred to as the race before the race, drivers must calculate their speed and position, crossing the start line as the clock counts down backwards to zero.
At full-tilt, pedal to the floorboard, Kelly grabbed lane four and hit the start line right as the official clock hit zero. In doing so, he beat his competitors into the smoother water of turn one on the first lap. The rougher water and slower speeds of the other racers allowed Kelly to win from the outside lane during the five-lap final. It was also the first win for new hydroplane owner Rob Graham and his Graham Trucking race team.
Although 2017 was the first year with Graham Trucking Racing, Kelly is no stranger to his race boat. He has been driving the race boat since 2014, when Ted Porter’s Precision Performance Engineering owned the boat. He also drove the same boat in 2009 and 2010. All but one of his eight race victories have been in the cockpit of this race boat.He also added one non-points win in the 2015 Madison Regatta.
Kelly scored his first H1 Unlimited win at the 2009 inaugural U.I.M. World Championship Oryx Cup in Doha, Qatar, and again in 2014 at the last Middle Eastern race. While enjoying the competition at each race, Kelly is most proud to be the winner of the 100th annual American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup in 2016.
Kelly said his goal is winning the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series national championship, something he has never been able to accomplish.
A fierce competitor, in his first H1 Unlimited hydroplane race in 2004 he had a podium finish placing third. This caught the eyes of his competitors who voted Kelly the 2004 H1 Unlimited rookie-of-the-year.
When not at H1 Unlimited hydroplane races, Kelly races inboard hydroplanes and hones his driving skills at the go-kart track. Kelly, who is known to eat just Doritos and Mountain Dew on race day, is a lead carpenter in the Pacific Northwest region. A graduate of Kent Meridian High School in Kent, Washington, Kelly, 39, lives in Bonney Lake, Washington, with his wife, Angela, and sons Brennen, Carson, and Asher.