Bob Keselowski, an ARCA Menards Series champion who later became a pioneering driver in the early days of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, has died. He was 70 years old.
My dad will always be my hero. He was quiet and understated, but that didn’t change the impact he had on me or that I watched him have on everyone who knew him. I am forever grateful for what I learned from this man, and I will remember him every day. https://t.co/NiG822YfpD pic.twitter.com/eUZWkPtUEG
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) December 22, 2021
Keselowski leaves a rich family legacy in racing. His father, John, raced motorcycles in the 1950s before forming a stock-car team. Bob and older brother Ron Keselowski drove for their father and worked on his cars at a young age before taking the reins of the family-owned operation.
His sons, Brad and Brian, remain active participants in the sport. Brad Keselowski is a former Cup Series champion who now drives for and partially owns RFK Racing; Brian Keselowski, a three-time ARCA winner, has been involved as a crew chief and a spotter for NASCAR teams in recent years.
Bob Keselowski won 24 times in what is now called the ARCA Menards Series, and he bypassed Bob Brevak in the standings during the 1989 season finale to claim his lone championship. He finished among the top three in the series standings for an admirable seven consecutive years (1987-93).
“Bob Keselowski was a true racer whose determination and love of the sport embodied the NASCAR and ARCA spirit,” a NASCAR statement read. “He worked tirelessly to build his family-owned team, doing whatever it took to compete. Our thoughts are with the Keselowski family during this difficult time.”
Keselowski moved to the Camping World Truck Series in its inaugural season of 1995 and became a regular in the circuit’s formative years. He scored his lone Truck Series win at Richmond Raceway in 1997, prevailing in the No. 29 Dodge for the K Automotive team that he co-owned with his brother in their home state of Michigan.
“Boy, I needed this one bad,” he told reporters post-race. “We are just starting to get all the big haulers and the shop and everything. I don’t want to lose it now. It took me 40-something years to get to this point.”
Keselowski gradually stepped out of the driver’s seat during the 1998 and ’99 seasons, battling persistent back pain and a pinched nerve in his hip. “I don’t plan on quitting completely,” he told the Detroit Free Press, “and I don’t plan on sitting around the house.” He remained active as a team owner, fielding winning trucks for Dennis Setzer and Terry Cook and later providing a platform for his son Brad to make his NASCAR national series debut in 2004.
The team folded early in the 2006 campaign, beset by a lack of sponsorship, and Keselowski sold the family’s race shop and inventory.
The elder Keselowski remained involved in his family’s racing efforts as both his sons reached NASCAR’s national series level. He staunchly supported Brad during his fierce rivalry with fellow Midwesterner Carl Edwards as he rose through the ranks. He also aided Brian’s underdog efforts to make the 2011 Daytona 500, serving as both car owner and crew chief to his No. 92 Dodge under the familiar K Automotive banner. Brian Keselowski made the 43-car field, claiming one of the final starting berths with help from his brother, who pushed his aging car to an emotional fifth-place result in the second 150-mile qualifying race.
Bob Keselowski remained active in motorsports in his later years, chasing land-speed records in a specially prepared Dodge Charger. He set a stock-car record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2018, reaching 271.8 mph during a five-mile run in a speed pursuit documented by his son, Brian.
His journey inspired both of his sons to pursue team ownership. Brad Keselowski paid tribute to his father and uncle by running Nos. 29 and 19 during his time as a Camping World Truck Series owner.
“For all my racing career, we’ve had a small, family-run team, and sometimes the responsibility of being an owner-driver seemed almost overwhelming, yes,” Bob Keselowski told the Gaston Gazette in 1997. “But then I look at the successes we’ve had over the years, and that made all the hard work worthwhile.”
One of Brad Keselowski’s prized possessions is a family photo of his father, uncle and grandfather from the first Cup Series race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Brad Keselowski shared the picture on his social media channels for Father’s Day weekend in 2021.
The photo shows brothers Bob and Ron Keselowski rebuilding an engine in the bed of a pick-up truck under the watchful eye of their father as the primitive Talladega grandstands loom in the background.
“That’s grassroots racing right there and I just love what this picture shows,” Brad Keselowski said. “It shows them working together as a family, working hard as a family. All three of them are dirty, all three of them are smiling and having fun. These guys were racers and I look up to them every day.”