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NASCAR’s hard-working Harvick puts charity work in spotlight

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, May 8, 2014, at 6:24 p.m.

— NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick is a walking, talking, racing conglomerate.

He’s Kevin Harvick, Inc. He’s Kevin Harvick Management. Dearest to his heart, he represents the Kevin Harvick Foundation.

And, incidentally, he’s Kevin Harvick, winner of 25 career Sprint Cup races, including two this season heading into Saturday night’s 5-hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.

“If there’s 24 hours in the day, he gets 40 hours’ worth of stuff crammed into it,” said Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch. “And … you don’t see a lot of it.”

That’s especially true of Harvick’s philanthropic endeavors.

Harvick, 38, is known for his irascibility behind the wheel, and his occasional displays of temper earlier in his career led to the sarcastic nickname “Happy Harvick.”

Like so many NASCAR drivers, Harvick has been generous with his time and checkbook for charities and other good causes, but the driver’s reputation made him better known for his crankiness rather than his kindness.

It hit home in 2009 when Shell — his sponsor at the time — conducted a survey with NASCAR fans.

“We scored a zero on the humanitarian side,” Harvick said, shaking his head in his motor home last week at Talladega. “It’s not that we weren’t doing anything. We did a ton of stuff with the Victory Junction camp and different charities, but we never publicized it.

“We’d just donate the money, and do our thing … shut down the race shop and take the company up to the Victory Junction camp, have a field day with the kids … but we never did it publicly.”

Because of the results of that survey, Harvick became more visible with his charitable work and showed he had a heart. He and his wife, Delanna, established the Kevin Harvick Foundation in 2010 and has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for good causes from North Carolina to northern California.

As part of his philanthropic efforts, Harvick is a board member of the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and the two foundations are constructing a Youth Development Park in the Greensboro, N.C., area. He sponsors the Pro-Am event in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro for the benefit of underprivileged children.

And he raises funds in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., for both the Police Activities League that works with at-risk youth in the area and underwrites costs for the athletic program at his alma mater, North High School, and provides annual college scholarships to students in need.

“If you can just turn a few kids’ lives around, point them in the right direction … we’ve done our job,” said Harvick. It’s fun … I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but we took advantage of the opportunities we had, and you want to give those kids the opportunity to do the same thing, who don’t have the funds to do it.”

Kevin Harvick was born and raised in in a working-class community of Bakersfield, better known as Oildale because it is populated by oil-field workers.

“It’s a tough place to grow up,” said Steve Johnson, assistant principal at North High School for the last 12 years and dean of students two years before that. “You learn to be a scrapper. We always joke you can take the boy out of Oildale, but you can’t take the Oildale out of the boy. Kevin has that reputation, but he has a softer side to him, and that’s his community involvement, not only for North but for the Bakersfield community as well.”

Harvick wrestled at 98, 112, 130 and 140 pounds in high school, and he brought that nasty streak from the wrestling mat to the driver’s seat.

He won the 1993 late-model championship at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield — a page in the high school yearbook from his senior year features his race car — before embarking on a successful NASCAR career that includes the 2001 and 2006 Nationwide Series championship and three top-three finishes in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in the last four years.

“He’s a role model,” Johnson said. “A lot of our kids don’t have real successful lives. They look up to Kevin. For years, I wanted to bring Kevin back and honor him. It wasn’t happening .. .so many things got in the way.”

One day, Harvick showed up at the high school just to chide one of his teachers who said he should have gone to college instead of racing cars at near 200 miles per hour.

“He came back to say to his teacher, ‘Hey, I turned out OK,’ ’’ Johnson recalled. “From that point on, every year, Kevin has come back with one more amazing thing after another. He’s outfitted the wrestling team, helped with travel expenses, meal expenses. He’s helped out the golf team. He gave scholarships to four of our most needy students last year … he’s given scholarships to Cal-State Bakersfield …

“It’s been incredible for our kids. A lot of them don’t have very much.”

The wrestling program was about to be shut down when Harvick came to its rescue. The wrestling room was condemned with black mold, and Harvick organized a fund raiser that came up with enough money to gut the room and repair it, buy all new pads, and air conditioning, plus new uniforms.

“The school is in the middle of a complete renovation,” Harvick said. “A new gym, new wrestling rooms. We didn’t raise all the money for that, but we basically have kept the wrestling program running, and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation donated a bunch of products for the baseball teams.”

Harvick has been able to devote more time to philanthropic efforts since closing the Kevin Harvick Inc., race teams that ran in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Trucks Series until 2011.

KHI still serves as the umbrella organization for the foundation and Kevin Harvick Management, a company that represents athletes and entertainers and gives his sponsors more bang for their buck.

“This is easy compared to running race teams,” Harvick said. “We had 140 people … We don’t have as much overhead with a building and race cars and teams and people.”

Harvick’s first client was UFC fighter Donald Cerrone, and he also works with PGA golfer Jason Gore, NASCAR’s Jeff Burton and two country singers, Matt Stillwell and Jake Owen.

“It’s been interesting,” Harvick said. “It’s been a challenge to get to know how the UFC works. With different athletes, it gives our sponsors a more diverse package to utilize in different areas of different sports.

“We like to be busy, we like to do things, we like to network and meet people. That’s how we’ve survived through the years.”

Harvick’s success on the track gives him the platform to expand on his other enterprises. Harvick, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, after has had one of the fastest cars in the series, and only some mechanical issues have kept him from winning as many as four of the first 10 races.

“Sundays … and this week Saturday night, are what makes it go around,” Harvick said. “That’s the main focus for me, personally. As a company they’re all the focus. The Sunday job is the bread and butter that keeps everything going.”

Harvick is already assured of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing third in three of the last four years while driving for Richard Childress Racing, where he spent his first 13 years after stepping into the seat of the late Dale Earnhardt.

There would be quite a celebration in Bakersfield if their favorite son could win his first Sprint Cup championship.

“When Roger Maris was going for the (single-season) home-run record,” Johnson said, “People would say to each other, ‘What did he do today?’ When people here ask on Sunday ‘What did he do?’, they’re asking about Kevin.

“He’s a role model, he’s a benefactor, he does so many things behind the scenes that nobody knows about. He just makes a huge difference to this place. It makes kids proud. When they tell their friends, ‘I go to the same high school as Kevin Harvick,’ you can tell they’re wearing that pride.”

And how would Harvick score in the next humanitarian survey?

“We’d be in the top five or six,” Harvick said. “We wouldn’t score a zero, I promise you that.”

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