Derek Kelley has now started three main events in his career at Anaheim 1 and Saturday night’s tenth place finish in the 250SX class was finally a result he could feel satisfied with for the opener. After a 19th place finish in 2020 and a 21st place finish last year, a top 10 results was a welcomed sight for the AEO Powersports KTM rider.
Kelley was solid all day as well, qualifying in P12 and then easily running with the top guys in his heat race to qualify straight into the main event and set himself up well for a good night. Throughout the main event, Kelley battled with and remained close to the Monster Energy Yamaha/Star Racing teammates of Levi Kitchen and Stilez Robertson before both riders eventually slipped away a bit down the stretch. Still though, it was a great start to 2023 for Kelley and we were able to catch up with him in the pits after the race to hear what he thought about it.
Racer X: Take us through the night man. A1!
Derek Kelley: A1! You’re always nervous coming in and you don’t know what to expect. Especially with the curveball with the rain, I was kind of nervous leading up to it and seeing the track on Friday. I’m just happy to make it through it healthy. I got out there in free practice and it kind of blew my mind. The track was almost unrideable. We really put in the work, and it came around towards the heat races and the main event. Considering how bad it was in free practice and how gnarly it was during qualifying and all that, the track ended up shaping up relatively well in the main event. Just happy like I said to get through it and happy to end up with a P10 and we can continue to build through the year.
Did it deteriorate much towards the end of the main? It looked like… I don’t know if guys were just starting to get tired or the track was starting to get much rougher.
No, it was honestly almost more rough in the heat race. By the end of the heat race, it was super soft how they prepped it, so it kind of got beat up really bad in the heat race. Through the main, it almost got better towards the end in certain areas. Obviously, the potholes got deeper but there’s nothing you can do about that.
You know everybody talks about this race kind of being a gauge to see where you’re at but so many people also have jitters. Was this an actual gauge to see where you’re at or is round two or three maybe going to be better?
Definitely the longer you go, you’ll see that some people do good at the first round and then they’ll peter out or they’ll build throughout the year. I think it’s more of a gauge to see how much work you’ve put in throughout the year. Obviously, the results tell a different story than how you rode. For a lot of the guys, I think it’s just getting those first race jitters out. You put in a lot of work. I’ve been training since November or October realistically because I raced the World Supercross series, so you just train for so long and you don’t know what to expect when the gate drops. I think it’s a relief and now we can get the ball rolling.
What are you going to work on during the week?
I think I’m just going to work on consistency. I think I really struggled towards the end of the main. I got a little tired and started casing jumps. I’ve just got to work on my mindset. I’ve got to stay focused on my lines, ride solid, and ride the track, not race the people.