As boredom set in for Kevin Harvick during his six-hour flight to Las Vegas for the NASCAR awards, he turned to Twitter for a little fun.
His friend, country singer Jake Owen, once suggested Harvick interact more with his supporters, so the driver took the advice.
Although Harvick is a notorious prankster at heart, what happened next was very real for long-time NASCAR fan Louise Groomer.
And it was a good thing — a very good thing.
“We had pretty much run out of things to talk about amongst each other on the airplane,” Harvick recalled. “Everyone had transitioned to listening to music and the internet. I sporadically go on Twitter and have random interactions with the fans and answer random questions and do random things.
“Honestly, we had a lot of people asking, ‘Give me a follow, give me a follow, give me a follow.’ I was starting to be a smart aleck, telling them ‘no’ for random reasons.
"Then Louise popped up and she said, ‘Please can I have a follow?’ Let alone the word ‘please’ and then you go to her page — and I was thinking about following a fan on the trip — but she was a die-hard Harvick fan and a Tony Stewart fan. And she said, ‘please.’ ”
If the manners didn’t initially sell Harvick on Groomer, then her avatar did.
“You could tell she was a nice, older lady,” Harvick said. “I said, ‘All right, this is my person.’ So I hit ‘follow.’ I thought this will be fun.
"But then we started getting hundreds of requests for follows and I couldn’t keep up with the timeline, so I started referring everything to her as to how you should ask to get a follow. She was polite and had everything on her page to prove that she was a fan, so they all started going to her.”
Harvick turned his Twitter approval process over to Groomer while he enjoyed his sponsor’s product — or two.
Before Tuesday night, Groomer had 44 Twitter followers. When she awoke on Wednesday her account had blossomed to well over 400. By Saturday the number had grown to 640.
Groomer was sitting on her couch in Chiloquin, Ore., when the tweet appeared. Initially, all she could do, she said, was "scream.”
“I jumped up holding my iPad and ran into the bedroom to wake my husband (Bill) up to show him the tweet,” Groomer said. " ‘Honey, we are going to the Daytona 500!’ I am sure he thought I had totally lost it.”
Harvick graciously replied yes. Thursday morning, Harvick’s assistant made all the arrangements for Groomer, a 56-year-old EMT-Intermediate who works as a business administrator for the Chiloquin Volunteer Ambulance Service, to attend the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and truck series races during Speedweeks in February.
“She’s from Oregon, so there’s not a lot of NASCAR you can watch in that area,” Harvick said. “I don’t know if she’s ever been to a race or not, but to go to the Daytona 500 and have that experience — pay for her hotel rooms, flights and meals to get her there — it’s going to be fun.
“It just turned into a unique happening. People can see when you artificially plan things like that. It just kind of evolved into the situation it is and it turned out good.”
Groomer actually has attended races in the past. Though she doesn’t have the luxury of a Sprint Cup race in the Northwest, Harvick was right when he pegged her as “a fan.” In 2005, the Groomers traveled to Indianapolis for a week of Sprint Cars, Nationwide and trucks “at the old IRP” before capping off the trip with the Brickyard 400.
“I picked this track because I knew Tony was going to win,” Groomer said. “It was so cool to watch him battle it out with Kasey Kahne, then climb that fence after winning. Our seats were pretty close.
“I grew up watching Wide World of Sports on ABC broadcasting the Indy 500, so this was a special place for my first NASCAR experience. The following year, we went to Charlotte for 10 days, saw the truck race, All-Star Race, went to some shops, the dirt track for World of Outlaws, Nationwide and the Cup race. KHI (Kevin Harvick Inc.) was our favorite shop to visit.”
Groomer, who is a member of the NASCAR Fan Council, has been a racing enthusiast for what “seems like all my life.” Although there wasn’t much competition in rural Oregon, she became enamored with the action on TV and how the sport is so personality-driven. But Groomer really caught the NASCAR bug in 1999 when Tony Stewart made his debut.
“I have always been a Tony Stewart fan — for me he is the ultimate racer,” Groomer said. “Kevin Harvick is a close second, followed by Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch as far as current drivers.
“When Tony announced he was forming SHR, I remember telling my husband that Kevin will leave RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and join Tony there. It’s taken a few years, but it’s actually happening.”
And now Groomer will be there when Harvick makes his debut in the No. 4 Budweiser Chevy at Daytona.