INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Harvick’s victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard was a win for more than just himself.
It marked a score for the racing legends who helped to shape Harvick’s career.
One of the first people Harvick referenced during his frontstretch winner’s interview, and then again during his media center press conference, was four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears – the open-wheel icon who was raised in Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., as a youth.
“Man, I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me,” Harvick noted. “As a kid, I grew up watching Rick Mears win Indy 500s and got to be around him as a kid … and he was my hero, so coming here and winning here where he did so many times is pretty awesome.”
That Harvick looked up to Mears and wanted to go into auto racing because of him came as no surprise.
What was, perhaps, more of a surprise was that Harvick’s initial desire to pursue a racing career didn’t involve full-fendered cars. Instead, he wanted to follow Mears into Indy car racing.
“When I was young, I wanted to race Indy cars, because at that point Indy car racing was more popular than stock cars,” Harvick recalled. “It took a drastic turn over the next 10 or 12 years, but at that particular point, if you wanted to race at the top level, you needed to race Indy cars. You didn’t want to race stock cars. And then all that changed.
“For me, I had a dad who I could have went and raced midgets with at 13, 14 or 15 years old, but at that particular point he wanted nothing to do with open-wheel racing and liked stock cars,” Harvick continued. “He was a firefighter and worked on cars on the side and went to the race track on the weekend, and that’s what I did. I went to the local short track and watched, and when I turned 16, that’s what we did.
“That was just the path. There was really no choice. I didn’t really have a say in that, and we raced go‑karts and then went straight to late model stock cars, and then from there it was just a progression of getting an opportunity to go to the next level, and I went all the way through the whole ranks of the NASCAR system at that particular time all the way to the top.
“It was really not my choice, but it worked out pretty well.”
Harvick’s win on Sunday was his second in the Brickyard 400, following a win 16 years ago, during the 2003 season in his early years with Richard Childress Racing.
That puts him halfway to matching Mears’ total of four Indianapolis 500 victories, “and hopefully we can get a little closer before we’re done,” Harvick smiled.
But Mears wasn’t the only great who Harvick honored with his victory on Sunday.
The 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion also won for car owner Tony Stewart – a two-time Brickyard 400 winner as a driver in his own right – who Harvick raced against for many years.
Stewart, who will be formally inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020, had won the Brickyard 400 before as an owner in 2013, but Harvick wanted to make sure he gave Stewart another PPG Trophy.
“I know how much this place means to Tony, and you can just see that in the way that he walks around here. He’s got a little more pep in his step when he walks around here than he does anywhere else,” noted Harvick of his boss. “He walked up to the car (after qualifying), and he said, ‘Yep, you’ve done a good job so far this weekend. Congrats on the pole. Now go out there, and I want you to destroy them today, and then after you’re done we’re going to climb the fence.’”
Harvick lived up to those wishes, leading five times for a race-high 118 laps and winning by more than six seconds over Joey Logano at the hallowed 2.5-mile oval.
It also meant he got to get Stewart to pay up on his request – which Stewart did jubilantly.
“I did remind him after the race that he said we were going to the climb the fence,” Harvick grinned. “I just wanted to see him climb the fence. That was his tradition, so that was kind of fun to be able to help him relive some memories, and I’m sure it was exciting for him. But there’s still nothing like driving the car and being able to enjoy those moments from a driver standpoint, and I think he’d tell you that too.
“Today was a lot of fun, because I know how much the Brickyard means to him, and those are the two things that he told me to do, so that’s what we did today,” Harvick added. “I’m glad it worked out, because he was happy and celebrating out there. I raced against him for a long time, but I respect him as an owner and it’s cool to do this together as a team.”
So was Harvick’s win for his own celebration at the famed Indianapolis grounds on Sunday? Absolutely.
But it was also a hearkening back to two Indiana heroes who left indelible imprints on both the sport and a veteran who has taken their lessons to heart and added his own.