Author: Dustin Long
Date: Nov. 21, 2015
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The kid was 10, more limbs than muscle, but it didn’t take the wrestling coach long to see the youth’s potential. He saw the toughness passed down from the kid’s fireman father. The kid was raw, fierce and hard to pin.
One day, the coach told the kid that he needed to wrestle more often in Saturday tournaments. This would help him improve and possibly lead to a college scholarship and the potential for a better life.
The kid missed those tournaments because he raced go karts. The coach didn’t see a future in that so he talked to the father, told the man what the boy could be. The father said if that’s what was needed, they’d curtail the kid’s racing so he could wrestle more often.
As he listened to the men talking, tears welled in Kevin Harvick’s eyes.
Rick McKinney laughs about what he tried to do with Harvick nearly 30 years ago.
“I’m the guy that almost screwed up his whole life,’’ said McKinney, who spent 25 years coaching high school wrestling and is a seventh-grade life sciences teacher in Clovis, Calif. “He could have been making $60,000 a year teaching and coaching someplace instead of being one of the best drivers in the world.’’
Harvick enters this weekend on the cusp of a second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He’ll race Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for the title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway on NBC.
Only 15 drivers in NASCAR’s history have won more than one Cup championship. The last three drivers to have won at least back-to-back titles had the surname Johnson, Gordon or Earnhardt.
Harvick is in this position because of a determination harnessed from his wrestling days in Bakersfield, Calif. Alone on the mat against an opponent, a competitor can either wilt or face the challenge. McKinney steered Harvick through those years, forming a bond that remains between coach and athlete.
“At that particular point in your life, you don’t really know how much you can get out of yourself and you don’t know about that competitive nature that you have inside of yourself,’’ Harvick said of his high school days.
“I think that (wrestling) taught me how to push myself. It instills this different type of mentality that is instilled in your brain when you go through those day‑to‑day wrestling practices and the meets and the matches and the intensity and the days where you just drag yourself out of the room and have to go to class. It’s a hard, hard sport. Those were four of the best years that I’ve probably ever spent in my life in learning about myself.’’
McKinney admits he often tested Harvick on the wrestling mat. Instead of matching Harvick with someone closer to his weight – Harvick notes he weighed about 86 pounds as a freshman – McKinney put Harvick with a heavier teammate in practice at times. Harvick was told he couldn’t stop until he had taken down his opponent. Other drills included the wrestlers starting on their back and told not to get pinned.
Less than 72 hours before his championship quest, Harvick smiled at the memory of completing those drills on a sweat-slicked mat in a sweltering wrestling room.
Harvick also relishes the slogans McKinney repeated. One that McKinney often preached to his team was that “You can’t be Clark Kent when you practice and expect to be Superman and win. Be Superman all the time.’’
A few years back, McKinney was with Harvick at Auto Club Speedway. They talked about putting forth a full effort each time, and McKinney asked Harvick if he recalled one of the team’s slogans. Harvick responded: “Be Superman all the time.’’
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