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Kelley Murphy Relishes NHRA Pro Stock Debut

When Elite Motorsports crew member Kelley Murphy made his NHRA Pro Stock debut at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, he found himself in the unenviable position of facing six-time world champion Erica Enders in round one. But that didn’t dampen the excitement for the 28-year-old rookie, who was finally fulfilling a dream nearly a decade in the making.

“I’ve wanted to drive forever,” said Murphy. “I haven’t missed one of our test sessions in Tulsa for the last 7 or 8 years, asking Richard [Freeman] if I can make a rip. He just always tells me I’m an idiot. Now here we are.”

Rick Belden photo

Murphy can usually be seen working on Troy Coughlin Jr.’s yellow Jeg’s machine, taking care of the back half of the car, maintaining the transmission, and packing the parachutes. In addition to all that, he also drives one of the team’s rigs to national events and helps set up and take down awnings.   

But adding “Pro Stock driver” to his résumé would take another year. During dinner at the 2023 Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod, Enders asked Murphy what race he’d want to race at if he had his choice. His answer was St. Louis, and he initially planned to debut there last season. But with multiple cars in the thick of the Countdown to the Championship, both Murphy and Freeman agreed it would be best to wait until the 2024 season opener. 

Earning his Pro Stock license the Wednesday before leaving for Gainesville, Murphy was finally ready to test his skills beyond the ‘69 Mustang he typically races in 5.0 Index back home.  

“It was my first hurrah in Pro Stock, but not my first hurrah in a clutch car,” Murphy said. “The rhythm’s really all the same with what you’re doing in the car; the Pro Stock car is just way faster. I don’t think I would have progressed as fast as I did if I hadn’t had some prior experience in a slower car.”

Murphy wasted little time getting into the show, running a 6.592 at 203.25 mph in Friday’s first qualifying session. However, with two less than stellar runs after that, and a final session that got rained out, he slid down to the 16th position.   

“When I rolled up to the water box on Friday, Sunday was the least of my concerns,” said Murphy. “I wasn’t looking to go low E.T. or something stupid like that. You gotta qualify before you can race on Sunday. I clicked it off a little early on that first run; that was my fault. Luckily it was enough to get me in.”

Securing the final spot in the field earned him the aforementioned matchup against Enders, who qualified No. 1 with a 6.549-second run. Despite making his best run of the weekend – a 6.554 at 210.21 mph – Murphy fell to the defending world champion, who used a holeshot and blistering 6.496 elapsed time to send the rookie home. Still, Murphy viewed the round as a success.   

“I was still excited just to be able to do it,” Murphy said. “That sounds stupid, but I was honestly tickled to death to make it that far. I told Erica before we ran that I’ve never looked forward to getting my ass kicked so much in my life. All things considered, we made a really nice run. I just got left on and beat by one of the best to ever do it.”

Reflecting back on the weekend, Murphy says it was everything he’d hoped for and more. And while there are no immediate plans for him to get behind the wheel again, he is confident there will be another outing at some point in the future. 

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“For now, I’m back to my regular duties taking care of the yellow car,” admitted Murphy. “As far as driving, it’s definitely wait and see. Just like everybody else, I need help funding-wise. We’ve got the car, engines, equipment, and room to put it in the trailer. I just need a little bit of help. If it comes about, great; if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. I checked it off the list. I’m happy to have had the first opportunity, even if it’s the last.”

This story was originally published on March 18, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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