I don't have any academic knowledge of the subject to offer, but my uncle was a race car engineer from the mid 70s til he retired last month.
It sounds like a similar vibe. Back in the 70s and into the 80s, F1 teams were like 14 dudes fielding a car. The engineers would be at the track on the weekend, getting feedback from the drivers and adding their own strategy to the team as the season progressed. As time marched on, the big money teams with manufacturer engineering depts became disconnected from the actual product and never went to the track. They stayed at the mothership and crunched numbers. Now they're giant monstrosities that really only move forward because of remote data collection and analysis.
There are few true racers left in the world, and even fewer aerospace masterminds like Kelly. It takes a lot of talent, a manager who is both brilliant and autonomous, and hands on contact with the project to think way outside the box and get the unfair advantage.