Driven by family tradition

Brothe and sister keep racing family on fast track

By Jim Totten
Livingston County Daily Press
& Argus (Howell)

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — Most parents would shudder at the thought of their children driving over 100 mph, racing through turns and jockeying for lane position with other cars.
But if you’re a member of the Conely clan, driving fast is a way of life.

Longtime Brighton Township resident Jack Conely set track records while racing stock cars for about 25 years. His son, John Conely, raced a few years and then made his name building and maintaining racing engines for McLaren Engines, and later launched his own racing outfit.

Now, the family is watching its third generation put the pedal to the metal while racing at the Waterford Hills Road Racing facility, part of the Oakland County Sportsman’s Road Racing Club.

“Racing is exciting,” Katie Conely said. “You have to think about what you’re doing. It’s fun.”

Katie Conely, 20, and her brother, Sean Conely, 22, both won class championships this season at Waterford Hills in their respective category while driving cars modified for racing. The season, which ended in October, features three races per weekend.

In addition, Sean Conely fell only a few points short of being named overall champion among the 100 drivers who race at the 1.5-mile track, which tests drivers with its many curves and turns.

John and Jenny Conely are their parents.

Katie Conely, a Michigan State University engineering student, just completed her first full season of racing. She started racing when she was 18 and said her older brother gave her plenty of driving tips.

“I was able to finish every race I started,” she said.

Katie Conely drives a 1984 Honda CR-X. She reaches speeds of up to 90 mph and has spun out a few times but has had no injuries.

Sean Conely, a 2009 Brighton High School graduate, is studying to be a mechanic at Washtenaw Community College. He began taking his Camaro to the track when he was 16 for open-track events and began racing when he was 18.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I knew I was going to like it.”

He said he likes the “adrenaline rush” of going over 100 mph and trying to get ahead of other cars.

Emotions can run high during races, especially since cars bump and hit each other. Sean Conely recalled how one driver walked over to him after a race and held up his bumper before having a short heated discussion; Sean Conely had ran into him while avoiding a crash.

When he first began racing, he said, some considered him a “young punk” because he was aggressive and doing well, but he felt he was driving safely as well. He said he gradually earned their respect.

Katie and Sean Conely both said they like the racing club because it’s like a family. If there is a problem on the track, drivers are supposed to talk with each other and try to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, the club can get involved.

The two work on their own cars and get them prepared for the racing season. They work on the cars at their father’s business, Conely Auto Sales, Service and Rent-A-Car in Genoa Township. If they have any questions, John Conely, a mechanic, is more than willing to help.

John Conely said he’s proud of his two children and how much they have improved. He enjoys going to the races and has even raced his children at the track.

“I have a great time,” he said. “Both Jenny and I enjoy it.”

Although racing can be dangerous, John Conely said race cars have plenty of advanced safety equipment, including a new device to support the neck.

“Riding a bicycle without a helmet is probably more dangerous than driving these race cars with the safety equipment we have today,” he said.

He said both of his children played several sports in high school, and he’s glad to see them using their competitive skills on the track.

“I’m happy for them, they’re so talented,” he said.