DeLana Harvick, co-owner of Kevin Harvick, Inc., was recently recognized as an extraordinary businesswoman and for her outstanding contributions to her profession by The Business Journal at their 12th annual Women in Business Awards ceremony.
While Harvick was flattered, as well as surprised to be counted in such great company, she shared just one piece of advice to all women in business, “Be who you are.”
“Honestly, it caught me off guard,” Harvick said of her award. “I was really honored to be included in such an impressive group of women.”
“When I got there, I really enjoyed learning about all the other accomplishments that these fourteen women had made in their lives,” Harvick continued. “Accolades and awards, it’s not that they don’t mean much to me, they do. But in order to be included in such an impressive group actually means more to me.”
“The awards are really flattering, but I would say to anyone, just be you,” Harvick said. “Be who you are.”
Harvick was nominated for the award by UNC Greensboro, where she graduated from college. She was specifically honored for turning a negative, the wearing of the fire suit issue, into a positive, using the controversy to develop a T-shirt which raised money for charity.
Harvick’s role in the sport of NASCAR was also honored, particularly as a female team owner in a primarily male-dominated sport.
“To me, I grew up in the sport so I never really viewed this as a male-dominated sport,” Harvick said. “Clearly it has been in the past, but in the last ten years or so you can see the impact that women have had in the sport from the business side and even women engineers and drivers.”
“This was where I was going to be whether it was male-dominated or not.”
Harvick has indeed been involved in the sport, growing up in fact as the only daughter of a racer. Her father, John Paul Linville, was a contractor by profession but a racer by passion, sinking all of his earnings into his race car and shop.
“When I grew up and my dad raced in the Nationwide/Late Model Sportsman/Busch Grand National Series, we didn’t have a lot of money,” Harvick said. “My dad was a contractor and what he was able to put into the racing is what he made. There were no sponsors so I really learned a whole different side of the business based on how I grew up in the sport.”
“I spotted for my dad and I did the travel,” Harvick continued. “I learned by just having to do.”
“I’m a doer and I think that has played a big part into why Kevin and I and KHI are successful because we both grew up that way,” Harvick said. “We both had to do things and were not handed things.”
Before KHI was even a glimmer in anyone’s eyes, however, DeLana Harvick as she was growing up wanted to be a racer herself.
“Growing up I always envisioned myself racing,” Harvick said. “But my dad was a very old-school, Southern kind of guy. Women didn’t do that at the time.”
“My dad was quite surprised with my level of determination about racing,” Harvick continued. “I definitely didn’t grow up the Southern belle that I think he may have wanted. So, I pushed and pushed and pushed but it just wasn’t something that he was willing let me do.”
“Our deal was that if I graduated college, he would get me a car,” Harvick said. “Well, he got me a chassis so I had to build me a car and that took, between trying to work and everything else, a couple of years after I graduated.”
“And at that point, I had met Kevin and really my life was in a different place,” Harvick continued. “So, it just never worked out for me.”
“I did run a late model and my dad and Kevin were both there at the time,” Harvick said. “But I don’t think either one of them could have taken it with their nerves. They just couldn’t bear it.”
“It never worked out and that’s okay,” Harvick said. “I think it was probably meant to be.”
Rather than being behind the wheel, Harvick graduated college and went to work interning at Performance PR Plus. She shadowed the staff who handled Jeff Gordon’s public relations at the height of the Gordon frenzy which she acknowledges was a great learning experience.
“I think that has served me well and I think I’ve probably gained the respect of people in this sport,” Harvick said. “I started out in PR so I certainly knew a lot of the media at that time. But I also knew a lot of the crew members, owners, and drivers because I had grown up in the sport.”
In addition to her mother and father, Harvick also credits role model, mentor and friend Richard Childress as one of the most important influences in her life.
“Richard (Childress) has been a very, very integral part of what Kevin and I have done,” Harvick said. “He’s always had the door open.”
“He could have easily have seen this as a distraction for Kevin but he hasn’t,” Harvick continued. “Richard has embraced everything that we’ve done and for that we have truly been fortunate.”
Harvick says that her other role models have been her parents, both of whom she admires for their passion and determination, especially after her father’s diagnosis of cancer when she was a young girl.
“When I was twelve, my dad was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer and they told him he only had six months to live,” Harvick said. “Well, he lived for over twenty years.”
“So, I think that spirit of pushing forward no matter what the challenges are, whether an illness or not having as much money as the guy parked next to you in the pits, is just to continue to press forward,” Harvick continued. “I learned so much from my dad in that aspect that really helped me in everything that I do.”
Although Harvick’s father passed away in November 2005, she is still quite close with her mother, who lives nearby her home and the race shop.
“While my dad went through his treatment, my mother had to work in order to support the family,” Harvick said. “I actually had gone to NC State for school and then came home because I had to take my dad to treatments while my mom worked.”
“I really admire my mom’s strength,” Harvick continued. “She is way more outgoing and fun-loving than I am. I’m more straightforward and focused like my dad. I admire that about her.”
Harvick has also learned from her parents, as well as through her own experience, that dealing with challenges is one of life’s most important lessons. She also credits having supports around her as a key element to her success.
“I have good days and bad days and some turn out better than others,” Harvick said. “You have to surround yourself with good people and come to the realization that you cannot do it all.”
What’s next for this accomplished woman, who has not only built her own career but also a thriving race team business?
“A lot of people assume that Cup has to be the next step,” Harvick said. “That’s interesting to me and I certainly believe that KHI has built a foundation that could support that.”
“Whether that happens or not, I don’t know,” Harvick continued. “I believe it has to be the right situation and the right time and place. And certainly sponsorship plays a huge part in that.”
“More than anything I think KHI solidifies our place in the sport,” Harvick said. “At some point when Kevin stops driving, and he will, we still have an avenue to be involved in a sport that we’re both passionate about.”
“So, I think that’s what I’m most proud of,” Harvick said. “You have to live out your dreams and do what makes you happy and what you’re passionate about, because you only get a chance to do this once.”