Racing's power couple
Kevin and Delana Harvick have equal passion for - and belief in - their race team.
By BRANT JAMES
Published February 25, 2007
Delana Harvick stopped in her tracks. This time, she thought, they had gotten themselves into more than they could handle. This cavernous space was more than fledgling Kevin Harvick Inc. could ever fill.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, what have we done?' " she remembered.
Seven years later, Delana and her husband, last weekend's Daytona 500 winner, have moved their operation from what now seems a modest 14,000-square-foot shop into a 70,000-square-foot expanse that houses two Busch and truck series teams. Felt pennants hang like district championship banners from a high school gym rafter, signifying each win the team has accumulated. It's starting to get crowded up there. Among the mementos are two Busch wins with Tony Stewart and five in the truck series, two by Harvick.
The future, like that first shop, is wide open. The Harvicks' seemingly innate sense of business plus passionate, almost fanatical commitment to each other and the company have made the tricky, often heart-breaking pursuit of team ownership more fruitful than most.
Delana Harvick admits she has found a kindred spirit in her husband, someone who shares an unceasing drive.
"I look back at some of my boyfriends and I think, 'What would have happened if...' and I don't think I could have been as truly happy professionally and personally as I am," she said. "I think you're destined to meet that person, and for me that was Kevin."
She admits their relationship might in some ways be "unhealthy." Yes, they love each other, she said, and Kevin beamed with pride during a Busch function in December when his wife was presented a token of esteem from the Daytona International Speedway. But without racing, she said, they would have little to talk about.
"We don't shut off racing," she said, "because it never stops. If you lag a little bit, or you stop, someone else is going to be that much further ahead of you. We don't stop. We don't go on vacation. People ask me how we survive that, but he and I are so competitive, if we go to the racetrack and we don't run well, I'm just as miserable as he is. That, I think, is what makes it work."
Racing brought them together. They were introduced by Kevin's current crew chief, Todd Berrier, when Delana was a media relations agent for driver Randy Lajoie. They've been married six years this month.
Both Harvicks' business sensibilities came from watching their fathers race with much less than many competitors. Delana grew up sweeping floors in the shop and spotting for her late father, John Linville, in the Late Model Sportsman series. Kevin kicked around the southern California circuit with his father, Mike, but no longer has a relationship with him.
"When I grew up, my father and I, we had our own cars and we really couldn't afford to do it how we wanted to do it and race how we wanted to race," said Kevin, who grew up in Bakersfield, about 160 miles from Fontana, the site of today's Auto Club 500 at Californis Speedway.
Delana said KHI likely would not have made it this far if the couple had more privileged backgrounds. She said the ability to make tough decisions comes early when you're not sure if you have the money to buy enough tires.
"My dad was always an independent racer; he always raced off the money from his construction company or our personal money," she said. "We had our little white box van and open trailer and tire rack.
"I learned it's not what the car looks like, it's about the driver's determination. We didn't have full-time employees. We had people who just showed up after work to make these cars go around. I think that's where I got a good sense of what I wanted my company to be like."
KHI has 80 full-time workers.
Though he is loathe to take any credit, Harvick's Nextel Cup team owner, Richard Childress, has been pivotal in helping him avoid pitfalls most newcomers face in an unforgiving business.
"If he sees us going down a way where we don't need to be, he will just say, 'Hey, what about this. Think about this,' " Delana said.
Childress signed Harvick to a Busch deal in 2000 and in '01 named him to replace the late Dale Earnhardt. Harvick went on to win Cup rookie of the year and the first of his two Busch Series titles that year.
"I think Kevin has really looked at a lot of things that other people have done," Childress said. "And he's put a lot of the right people in the right places."
Though striving for the same goal, there is an underlying competitiveness between the Harvicks, and the sense that decisions are not always easy. Kevin stops short of crediting Delana too much for the company's success, and stresses that she holds sway mostly in marketing and communications matters and running the team daily.
"I usually win (disputes) on the competition side," he said.
But her involvement goes deeper than news releases. It's not uncommon to see her, binders and folders under her arms, pushing an engine part on a cart out of NASCAR's research and development center. She wears a team fire suit atop the pit box during races.
KHI benefits from her savvy, said longtime friend Ron Hornaday, who has three of KHI's truck wins. As for the team's rapid rise, he said, "a lot of it is Delana."
"Kevin is not only my husband, but he's my best friend and he's my business partner," Delana said. "And because we travel together, we work together, we do everything together. That's sometimes challenging. I'm not going to tell you that it's not. Sometimes we completely disagree on how things need to go and three months later when he ends up doing what I told him to do three months beforehand I'll say, 'I was right.' He says, 'Yes, you were' and we move on. We've learned how to do that."
And how to fill those big open spaces.
Brant James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804.