Television stars are often born in obscurity. We first met Bart Simpson, for instance, in throwaway vignettes on The Tracey Ullman Show. Just as that 1980s variety program launched The Simpsons, the Web is introducing us in snippets to the title clan of an animated race car series, The Kellys (whose characters are shown below). Created by SportsBlast, a company founded by Nancy Cartwright—the voice of Bart—the series debuted on Sept. 26 on nascar.com, on which a three- to four-minute episode premieres each Friday and is then archived on the site.
The Kellys, which mixes drama and comedy, tells the story of a NASCAR family in transition. Racing veteran Joe Kelly has recently retired to manage his own team, but his lead driver and oldest son, Denny, has a knack for finding trouble on the track. Desperate, Joe brings in egomaniacal Italian Formula One driver Armani, all the while fighting off the claims of his daughter, Trish, that she's the best driver available. The series, which operates best in Shockwave Flash, will run until the end of the NASCAR season, in November, and is expected to resume when the 2002 season begins in February. If it catches on, it might spin off into a Saturday-morning television series.
Cartwright, who's the voice of seven-year-old Chip Kelly, formed SportsBlast a year and a half ago after determining that sports was a relatively untapped area of animation. She and her team of writers have immersed themselves in NASCAR culture, hanging around the pits at numerous events and two weeks ago even taking the high-powered cars for a spin at California Speedway. "Oh, it was awesome, man," says the 40-year-old Cartwright in her best Bart-ese. "I left my writers in the dust."