DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the first time since entering NASCAR’s premier series, Kevin Harvick has shed himself of the headaches and hassles of team ownership.
“I get to race,” said Harvick, who shuttered the racing operations of Kevin Harvick Inc. after last season, “and not have to worry about any of the stuff that comes with it.”
Well, there might be a few worries this year.
How about 2 a.m. feedings? Diaper rashes? Incessant wailing?
“I’m looking forward to all of it,” he said. “How can that not be enjoyable?”
Kevin and his wife, DeLana, essentially are trading one set of parental obligations for another in 2012. After sharing the day-to-day responsibilities of running KHI’s Camping World Truck and Nationwide series teams for the past decade, they will shift from watching over about 100 employees to doting on their first bundle of joy. The couple, married 11 years Feb. 28, are expecting in July.
“This is something Kevin has wanted since the day we got married,” said DeLana, who announced last week that she was having a boy. “I’ve always been the one that said, ‘No. … We can’t have race teams and do it.’ And trust me, KHI was everything to me, too. It wasn’t a nonchalant, ‘Let’s just get rid of it.’ “
But they’ve discovered an upside since shedding themselves of the stress — for now at least.
After consecutive third-place finishes in the Sprint Cup standings, Harvick is convinced trading the demands of ownership for those of fatherhood will improve his results.
“I don’t see how it can’t,” he said. “I should be more focused on what I’m doing. You never really realize how much an effect it takes on you until you stand back from it.”
Said Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton: “Having a lot of that stuff off his shoulders is going to be a good thing. You aren’t concerned about, ‘How am I going to be paying my employees? Where is the sponsorship coming from?’
“When you don’t have children, the whole world is about what is going on around you. It is natural when you have children to realize there is so much more. I think that some people lay down a little bit because the softer side comes out. Other people (are) more intense because now they have a responsibility that is greater than them (and) that makes some people step it up. Kevin is one of those people that I think will step it up.”
Harvick already has researched his new role, bending the ears of recent fathers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.
“Our motor homes always seem parked next to another, and as we have been out with our daughter (Genevieve, 19 months), he was outside, watching and asking questions,” Johnson said. “Now when I look back, there were a lot of questions that make sense why he was asking.”
DeLana was inquisitive, too. Among her closest confidantes was Newman’s wife, Krissie, who brought their daughter, Brooklyn, on the road last season for the first time. She coaxed DeLana into child care because she could tell her friend was “scared to death” to hold a baby. It worked.
“I felt this is something I could do,” DeLana said. “It was reassuring.”
Krissie has a photo of Kevin cradling Brooklyn, now 15 months, in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I knew right away then they were going to have a kid,” she said. “You could tell they were going to be such great parents.”
When DeLana revealed the baby’s gender on KevinHarvick.com (the name is 99.9% sure but won’t be revealed even to family until the birth, the Harvicks say), the traffic crush briefly shut down the website.
The response mimicked the overwhelming response to Harvick’s news last month that DeLana was pregnant. It was perhaps the top story of a preseason media tour in Charlotte, ranking with Danica Patrick announcing she would skip the Indianapolis 500.
The interest partially stems from the Harvicks being NASCAR’s No. 1 social media power couple (Harvick has more than 138,000 Twitter followers; DeLana has over 77,000). But it also has roots in rumors of marital trouble that swirled when the couple announced the closure of KHI in September.
“(The pregnancy) turned it upside down from the time we announced the race teams were going away,” Kevin said. “You had all the divorce stuff, and it’s the total opposite of what the majority of people thought.”
He categorically denied then that it was because the couple were splitting.
“We just sat back and had that smile,” DeLana said. “We thought eventually this would all come to light and a lot of people would feel pretty stupid.”
KHI’s demise caught many by surprise because the couple seemed to have grandiose plans for the team, which won truck owner championships in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In 2010, the team expanded its chassis shop and became the primary supplier for Chevrolet teams on the circuit.
With a 70,000-square-foot shop designed by Kevin, the team produced impressive results from humble beginnings. Across 735 starts in the two lower-tier series from 2002 to 2011, KHI produced 43 truck victories and 10 Nationwide wins.
But NASCAR rules precluded the team from being elevated to Cup while Kevin drove in the premier series.
When the team was hit with penalties after a July race at Nashville Superspeedway— interrupting the Harvicks’ beach vacation the Monday during an off week — the wheels were set in motion for walking away from their business.
“That was the final straw,” Kevin said. “Having to deal with NASCAR on Monday morning and the team for being in trouble, we finally said, ‘This is a great time to just end it and move forward.’ “
Their ages — Kevin is 36, DeLana is 38 — also factored into the decision.
“I asked him, ‘Do you realize if we do this another 10 years I’ll be almost 50?’ ” said DeLana, who planned to continue attending races and stand atop the pit box (except during pit stops, because she won’t be wearing a fire suit). “It’s not like you’re old, but for what we were considering doing, we had to make some timely decisions.
“Kevin and I were so involved in KHI, and that was our baby. We put everything into that. But something was going to lose out, and it was KHI. The rewards of KHI didn’t outweigh the risks of having our child lose out on anything. We’re very proud and fortunate of everything we accomplished at KHI, but when we laid everything out, it just wasn’t working. Family is the most important thing for us. We didn’t feel there was anything left to prove.”
Absent the constant phone calls and trips to KHI’s shop in Kernersville, N.C. (a few minutes from the couple’s 140-acre spread in Oak Ridge, northeast of Winston-Salem), the offseason was the most relaxing the couple have spent together.
Kevin immersed himself in his hobbies (and found a new one in a ski trip to Aspen: “I don’t know if you can call it skiing, but I was on skis.”). He attended several UFC fights, served as honorary coach of the Virginia Tech wrestling team and presented New York Yankees former head athletic trainer Gene Monahan with a merit award (Kevin, a longtime Yankees fan, shared the podium with ace relief pitcher Mariano Rivera at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America banquet in Manhattan).
Meanwhile, the couple re-examined their life at home, changing chiropractors and vitamins, for starters.
“Everything got analyzed,” Kevin said. “And if it wasn’t what we thought was the best way to do it, we changed it. I feel it’s made the personal life better. It’s made me more relaxed. Everything got better.”
He is pleased with changes afoot on the track, too. Richard Childress Racing, which absorbed KHI’s Nationwide cars, made numerous personnel changes, including a new crew chief for Harvick in Shane Wilson.
Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip thinks Cup drivers who don’t moonlight have a better shot at on-track greatness.
“I think that’s one of the keys to Jimmie Johnson’s success,” Waltrip said of the five-time champion. “He doesn’t own any cars. He just concentrates on Cup. I think some guys have too many opportunities, get involved in too many things with a lot of distractions. And it doesn’t hurt you in the beginning of the year, but it always busts you at the end of the year.”
Harvick was nicknamed “The Closer” last year because of his knack for snatching wins in the final laps, but he could shore up his finishing kick to the season. He entered last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup tied for the points lead but placed third in the standings after fetching no wins and six top-10s in the final 10 races.
“He’s an amazing talent, and I love the way he operates behind the wheel,” driver-owner Michael Waltrip said. “I think, whether Harvick knows it or not, he just got more focused on his Cup stuff by not having to worry about all the work that team was for him.”
Parenthood figures to be met with its own challenges. Gordon went winless in 2008 and has said his performance was affected by many sleepless nights in his motor home in that first full season after his daughter’s birth.
“None of that stuff worries me,” Harvick said, adding he was looking forward to changing diapers. It seems a new challenge sought by a star sarcastically nicknamed “Happy” by crewmembers for the blunt manner in which he communicates when his car handles poorly.
“Kevin’s nature is he doesn’t mind things being hard,” Burton said. “He is willing to put it out there and say, ‘We are going to do this,’ with everybody around him saying, ‘What in the hell are you talking about?’ He has a plan, and he has a reason for wanting to do it, then he says, ‘I will show you.’ He is a very self-motivated person (who) doesn’t mind conflict. I think sometimes those things make him better.”
Harvick is taking a more carefree approach to becoming a parent than his wife. “It’s trial and error; that’s how I am,” he said. “She wants to have it all planned out, and I’m like, ‘Let’s just do it! And figure it out.’ “
DeLana has been more calculating, often leaning on Krissie Newman for advice. Newman accompanied her to a Charlotte baby store last week for a tutorial on strollers and car seats.
“She texted that she was freaking out because she was researching stuff online and was a little overwhelmed and didn’t know which direction to go,” Newman said. “We went through the entire store with her registry and kind of figured out what she wanted.”
Among the items DeLana, using an alias, has registered for is a Baby Bjorn carrying harness.
“I told Kevin he’d literally leave it somewhere,” DeLana laughed. “He’d sit it down or forget it. We can’t do that.”
Kevin said he didn’t want the child to race.
“I know how much work it is and how much you sacrifice in your own life, missing your senior prom or whatever,” he said. “I always tell people, go do everything you can in high school, because you can’t get that time back.”
DeLana has no preference on the child’s vocation but has settled on its education.
“I’m planning for how can I get the baby into Chapel Hill, because I want to get a ‘Carolina Mom’ sticker on my car,” the North Carolina native said. “I’m already thinking down the road to find the best preschool and elementary school.
“If he wants to play chess, it doesn’t matter to me. The main focus for Kevin and I is to raise a grounded, self-aware, kind, good person. That’s all we can hope to do with our child.”
Article courtesy of Nate Ryan with USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/motor/nascar/story/2012-02-22/Kevin-DeLana-Harvick-in-happy-place/53229614/1