The sounds of high RPM engines echo through the hills of Mid-Ohio raceway as another summer GridLife Touring Cup event is underway. Through the famous turns of the Keyhole and Carousel corners, a pack of Mazda MX-5’s battle out against a bright red and black Honda S2000.
Behind the wheel of the Honda sits Tiffany Kelly, bound by determination to take home another victory, as she jogs the steering wheel through the corners and across the checkered finish line. But this isn’t just a one-off race weekend for Tiffany and her touring cup car, in fact it’s more than just a weekend — it’s a lifelong labor of love.
Long before racing her S2000 on the road course, she was spending her after-school evenings at a neighborhood friend’s house wrenching on cars in the garage. Her interest in wrenching soon paired with an opportunity and acceptance into a special automotive program at a local college as a supplemental study during her junior and senior years of high school. Within the program, she learnt the trade of autobody and repair, and that’s when she became obsessed with building cars.
Fast forward a few years and her savings from an automotive internship, she managed to purchase a bright red, Kawasaki Ninja 500EX and the new thrill of riding at high speeds ignited a new obsession. “The motorcycle made me realize I had a passion for speed and racing.” She says. “I also got involved a lot into the street racing scene, and nowadays always look back and laugh at how we all thought we were like the “Fast and the furious.”
But the motorcycle not only led to a newfound interest of speed, but also led to her husband and future automotive racing partner. After a random run-in at a fuel station, the two became inseparable. He introduced Kelly to the world of autocross and that’s when she realized how natural performance driving was to her. They both decided to apply for official time trials licenses — and that’s when things became serious.
Enter the S2000.
With a weekend road trip to Georgia, she picked up an immaculate silver S2000 with only 60k on the speedometer. Intentionally meaning to keep the car stock, that plan didn’t stick around long. “I originally bought the car to be a daily driver,” She says. “But the next thing I know, I’m tearing out the interior, putting in a roll cage and going full racecar!”
The first round of modifications revolved around keeping it reliable for full track days on a road course. This began with the EFI management with upgrading to an AEM Infinity ECU with AIM dash monitoring system for complete tuning and control. Then she upgraded the wheels and tires, along with installing high performance brake pads and beefed up the suspension with KW coil-overs, spherical bushings, Swift springs and Gendron front and rear aftermarket sway bars.
To keep the motor safe, she installed a baffle in the oil pan to keep the lubricating system flowing during the long sweeping turns in road track driving. She says, “Initially, I didn’t have to make a ton of modifications because the S2K was built to be a track car by Honda . . . it didn’t need a ton of changes to be fun and competitive at a track day.”
Though throughout an initial season of racing, she realized the car would require more work to become to be competitive in her class. So next on the list was installing a 5-point full roll cage, Kirky racing seat and OMP quick release steering wheel, paired with a Cool Shirt system for a bit more comfort. Next, she moved on to the power.
This started with fabricating a custom header and exhaust system and installing ITBS and TODA VTEC “Killer” camshaft Kit, which made the car sound rowdy and backing up the fuel system with a custom fuel surge tank. Lastly, she added more grip by installing an OS Giken Limited Slip Differential.
There were several aero mods including a custom-made front splitter and adding a time attack style Cognition rear wing. To complete the package, she had The Office Sign Company do a custom livery on her and her husband’s car to show off their matching Team Kelly theme of Red, Black and Gray. And with no surprise the work on the S2K is typically performed by Tiffany herself. “My husband and I do all the mechanical work together on our cars”. She says. “ I will admit he is definitely better at welding and fabrication because he went to school for machine tool.
But as with working on a car, such are the trials and tribulations of racing. During one particular race at Heartland Motorsports Park. She spun out on the last turn of the race and hit a wall at high speeds. The car was crushed, and so was Tiffany’s spirit “I was extremely upset,” She says. “. . . I literally cried for days over it, but I finally came to the conclusion that everything is fixable, and it also gave me another excuse on why I should upgrade everything on my car.”
Determination and persistence is what leads to wining, and for Tiffany, she’s certainly not lacking either. The first year she began racing in the National Auto Sport Association, NASA series, she won the regional championship and rookie of the year. She decided to try racing in the Gridlife GLTC and in her first year became the first woman to both win a Gridlife GLTC race and entire race weekend.
Then off the track she tackles the mechanical upgrades and repairs, alongside her husband who assists with the fabrication side of things. Together they’ve even began a new Youtube channel, “TeamKellyRacing,” that documents their builds. “I consider myself a proficient mechanic.” She say’s “But wiring is still something I am learning a ton about. I am trying to build an entire Mil Spec harness for my car right now by myself and it is the hardest project I have done so far!”
So far, she’s built a very competitive car, but things are not stopping there. Her current project is finishing a new J35A4 engine swap into the S2000 and it’s turning out to be quite a challenge. She says her goal is to get more torque from the car that it wasn’t able to accomplish with the factory F20 Honda engine. There’s a lot of custom parts to be made and it’s quite a process.
Overall, we’re looking forward to more projects and racing from this duo, and if you haven’t already, we suggest to give her a follow on her socials and Youtube, not only for entertainment, but inspiration to get out and race — as Kelly says, “Drive Fast, or Be Last!”