Fatherhood, business ventures molding Harvick into better man
When Kevin Harvick burst on the scene in NASCAR, he was one of the fiercest and most intense drivers in the garage. While that has not changed at the track, a Sprint Cup Series championship, young son and refocus of his personal business have led to a much more mature and focused man.
Recently, FOXSports.com sat down with the defending Sprint Cup Series champion to discuss his life away from the track and how that has changed over the years.
Starting his career with Richard Childress Racing in 1999, Harvick was thrust into the spotlight as the driver tapped to replace Dale Earnhardt after Earnhardt's death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In an extremely difficult situation, Harvick excelled behind the wheel of the retooled white No. 29 Chevrolet, winning just his third Sprint Cup race in emotional fashion.
For the next 13 years, Harvick became a consistent figure at the front of the field piloting the No. 29 Chevrolet for RCR. However, for the 2014 season Harvick made a bold change by leaving RCR to join Stewart-Haas Racing.
The move proved to be extremely beneficial as he and crew chief Rodney Childers earned five wins and Harvick took home his first Sprint Cup Series title.
Less than a year removed from hoisting the 2014 Sprint Cup trophy, Harvick said that while things have ultimately remained the same on race weekends, things away from the track have taken on a new meaning.
"I think the biggest role that has changed as Sprint Cup champion is just how you represent the sport outside of the weekend," Harvick told FOXSports.com. "When you have little things to do -- be it going to the White House or a NASCAR dinner or anything in between -- you're obviously representing everybody.
"On the race weekends, our goal was to not do anything different," he said. "You don't want to lose that enthusiasm and fire on the track or in how you react to situations. Some people may or may not agree with that, but that's really got us to where we are. That drive and desire and competitiveness to go out and race and react how you react doesn't change on the weekends, because that's how you got to become the champion, and there's no reason to change that.
"Outside of the racetrack there's definitely more responsibilities. You definitely are representing everybody in your sport, so you want to do that well."
Another big change for Harvick outside of the racetrack has been the birth of his son, Keelan, in 2012. As Keelan has grown, he has done so in front of the NASCAR community, often sitting in Kevin's cars before the race, keeping tabs of the action in the garage and hanging out with the team.
Keelan is also a prominent figure on the NASCAR social media circuit, despite just being three years old. Kevin and wife DeLana often share Instagram videos and Twitter pictures of Keelan racing dad in his big wheels and go-karts, or swinging the golf clubs at the driving range or putt-putt course.
Still very young, Harvick said neither he nor DeLana is necessarily trying to steer Keelan down a particular career path -- in this case, racing versus golf.
"There's really no steering, we just try to expose him to different things to see what he likes, take him to different sporting events -- whether it's football, baseball, basketball -- but he migrates at his own will towards golf more than anything," Harvick said of his son, who already has a Twitter account with nearly 13,000 followers. "He likes to go to the racetrack and be around the cars, but even when we're at the racetrack he'll ask to go swing his golf clubs.
"He likes riding in his go-kart and do those racing type of things. It's not 50-50; I'd say it's 70-30 with 70 percent of it going to the driving range or going to the putt-putt course or something along those lines."
Since becoming a father, Harvick has been able to find the perfect balance in life that was missing in those early days of his racing career. While he still has the passion, drive and aggressiveness behind the wheel, he is not as quick to become hot-tempered and confrontational as in the past.
"It's been good just for the fact it's added a good balance to my life," Harvick said of being a father. "It allows me to let go of things a lot quicker than I used to just for the fact that I have something else to do, other than racing, at home. In the end, he doesn't really care if I won or lost.
"I like to have Keelan around and I like to have DeLana around at the events. I know he definitely takes in a lot of exposure, but I like to have him around because those things are going to happen if you want them to or not. We just try to be normal."
Things were much different for Harvick from 2001 until 2011, as he and DeLana owned Kevin Harvick Inc., which fielded cars in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series.
During that period, KHI won 10 XFINITY Series races, while earning 43 Camping World Truck Series wins along with the 2007 and 2009 truck championships with veteran driver Ron Hornaday Jr. behind the wheel.
While fun to give back to the sport of racing, the team was a daunting responsibility. From finding drivers and sponsors, to building competitive vehicles, to dealing with the day-to-day responsibility of employing and managing a race shop full of employees, Harvick certainly had his plate full. Plus, he still had to focus on his main role of driving RCR's No. 29 Chevrolet.
So the Harvicks decided to leave the team ownership business behind. Instead, Kevin took what he had learned from the business and marketing side of the team and morphed it into KHI Management.
Instead of building race cars, KHI Management focuses on the business of sports by working with athletes in a wide range of areas including contract negotiations, career management, sales and marketing, and media relations strategies.
The KHI Management client list has included the likes of former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, country music star Jake Owen, UFC fighters Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Miesha Tate, and professional golfer Jason Gore. Recently, KHI Management announced a deal to work with 10-year-old motocross prodigy Ryder DiFrancesco.
"Ryder's situation is a lot like Donald's was in the beginning -- we just felt like he could use some help in trying to make sure they didn't get into a bad contract or something," Harvick explained. "It's not by any means a moneymaker or something. It's just about trying to get Ryder some help and get his career set so that he doesn't get taken advantage of. I feel like at KHI we can help him and he can go out and do his things and not have to worry about getting into something he shouldn't have been in from a contractual standpoint. I think we bring some things to the table from a sponsorship side."
While Harvick shows no signs of slowing down on the track, he is slowly building his own brand off the track with an eye toward the future. Taking all he learned coming up through the sport and owning a successful race team, he is laying a solid foundation for something that can carry him well beyond his NASCAR career -- or at least that is the plan.
"For me, as you look beyond my (driving) career, I think that if you build a good enough portfolio of athletes, it's something you can take forward," he said. "For DeLana and I, it's something that we don't have to 140 people like we did at the race shop. We can have less people and still apply the things on a day-to-day basis with what we've done in my career to handle my day-to-day stuff. The best thing is the overhead is low.
"From a standpoint of helping people and doing the things that make us more diverse from a sponsorship standpoint, being in different arenas of sports is good for us as a business is good for us. Really what we're shooting for is to be as diverse as possible."
Harvick's two most prominent clients, Cowboy Cerrone and Miesha Tate, will likely have the opportunity to fight for the UFC title belt in the same year. Cerrone has won his last eight fights and has been promised a shot at the lightweight title in December. Tate will face off against UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey for the third time later this year.
"She's definitely been in the mix with Ronda before," Harvick said of Tate. "I think if you look at Miesha, I think she's definitely a different person and fighter than when she faced Ronda before, just the things that she's done over the last three or four fights.
"To have two clients with the opportunity fighting for a belt probably in the same year is something that is pretty neat as a company just to be involved in that," he said. "I look at them as clients, but they are also friends. They support what I do and I support what they do. It's fun. That's why you do it. That's why they want to do it. They want to win and they want to get better. I feel like in a small way we've helped them get better. It's allowed them to focus more on the things they need to focus on, and that's fighting.
"The goal in any athlete's life is, 'I want to worry as little as possible so I can be able to do the things I need to do to get better at whatever I'm doing.' I feel like our focus is to take that worry about from them," Harvick explained. "We keep them involved, but they don't have to worry if they're going to have sponsors and endorsements, where they're going to fight, is the paperwork done. We take all those things away to try and simplify the athlete's life in order to make it better."
Now focused on making other athletes' lives better, Harvick shows that he has grown not only professionally, but personally. His road to the top has not been an easy one, and it has certainly had its fair share of controversy. However, through it all, the kid from Bakersfield, California who once jumped over a car to confront another driver has become one of the sport's biggest ambassadors.
By refocusing his priorities and embracing the change in his personal life, Harvick believes he's become a better person both on and off the racetrack, building a solid legacy for NASCAR fans, but most importantly, his son.
"I think as you take those priorities and you try to balance that circle of life -- whether it be your profession or your home life, how much time you spend here or there -- you have to think about that stuff all the time," he said. "For me, that thought process has worked well for my career and made me better at my job. I think my personal life is better, and I think my life is better."