BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Kevin Harvick did not want a crystal ball to see the future — it was proper there in entrance of him in the expansive infield at Kern County Raceway.
Harvick had returned to his house city of Bakersfield final Thursday to place his cash — and his time, effort and power — the place his mouth had been 4 days earlier.
At Kern County, the 2014 Monster Power NASCAR Cup Collection champion was racing towards youngsters in the NASCAR Okay&N Professional West Collection season opener, to not flex his muscle tissue with a step down in school however to attract consideration to a problem he had raised after profitable his third straight Cup race at ISM Raceway in Arizona.
“My objective is to attract sufficient consideration to get youngsters’ dads and rivals enthusiastic about racing in the Okay&N Collection,” stated Harvick, who grew up competing at Bakersfield’s Mesa Marin Raceway, which closed in 2005. “We have now some good racetracks on the schedule. It is necessary to maintain that sort of racing wholesome for our sport, as a result of I consider the grassroots, hardcore followers reside at these racetracks. These are the hardcore followers that we speak about dropping.
“With a view to do this, as a way to maintain them enthused, we have now to construct it from the backside up, from the late fashions, Okay&N, to get them to return out. The blokes and gals that go watch the races in Tucson, we have to get them to return right here and watch the races in Phoenix. The parents in Bakersfield, we have to get them to go to (Auto Membership Speedway in) California. We have to re-energize that brief-monitor system to get it to the level it must be.”
It was unimaginable to not know that Harvick had come residence. Billboards on the approaches to the speedway have been plastered with his likeness. A big mural on the aspect of a concession constructing proclaimed his presence. Earlier than competing in the Okay&N occasion, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver presided as grand marshal for the Completely happy Harvick 50, a Late Mannequin race that included 15-yr-previous Jagger Jones, son of P.J. Jones and grandson of racing legend Parnelli Jones.
The Okay&N race was primed with younger expertise. Sixteen-yr-olds Derek Kraus and Hailie Deegan, alongside with 20-yr-previous Cole Rouse, drove for Invoice McAnally Racing. Will Rodgers, who thrust himself into the highlight with a second-place end to Harvick at Sonoma Raceway final June, was a Harvick teammate at Kern County.
Fifteen-yr-previous Austin Herzog, who has already evoked comparisons to a younger Kyle Busch in some quarters, was driving for Jefferson Pitts Racing, as the collection raced for the first time on radial tires (having used bias-ply tires in earlier years).
Via all of it, Harvick was the undisputed focus. When he gained his third straight race at Phoenix, his cleaning soap field turned a bully pulpit, and he used it to spotlight the significance of the connection of the highest degree of NASCAR racing to the brief tracks that have been instrumental to its monumental progress.
Those that race at the grassroots degree have been effusive in expressing their gratitude.
“We’ll rise up as a military behind Kevin Harvick,” proclaimed workforce proprietor Tim Huddleston, a part of a gaggle that lately saved half-mile Irwindale Speedway from extinction.
The respect proven to Harvick in the storage did not essentially prolong to the race monitor. Harvick led the one hundred seventy five-lap race till the last restart, when Kraus slid up into the NASCAR champion in Flip three and dropped him from first to ninth in the operating order.
Harvick charged ahead, first tattooing the rear bumper of Deegan’s Toyota, then progressively working his option to fourth earlier than the race ended. Kraus went on to win the race.
For Deegan, a rookie, it was an eye fixed-opener to race towards a driver of Harvick’s stature.
“I knew he was coming,” Deegan stated. “I used to be virtually anticipating him to hit me. He was in all probability a bit of bit mad that he had been hit out of the approach out of first. I knew he was on the transfer, however I used to be capable of maintain him off for fairly a number of laps. So I used to be fairly pleased with that.
“When there’s somebody behind you with his expertise, you recognize they are not going to place you into the wall. However after seven laps of him hitting me, I figured I ought to in all probability let him by. It might in all probability be quicker for me to comply with him to the entrance, and I acquired by two individuals simply by following him, so it ended up understanding for me.”
After getting run over on the last restart, a youthful Harvick may need climbed from the automotive with blood in his eyes. However the forty two-yr-previous Harvick had his gaze firmly set on the greater image — strengthening racing’s equal of the umbilical twine that connects the grass roots to the huge time.
For Harvick, the journey to Kern County — opulent by brief-monitor requirements — wasn’t as a lot a return to the roots of his previous because it was an affirmation of his imaginative and prescient of a thriving future.
“You virtually really feel spoiled pulling right into a facility like this as a result of it is so good,” Harvick stated after the second apply for the Okay&N race. “To me, that is actually what tonight is about is bringing an consciousness to how good of a racing facility this place truly is and the way fortunate the individuals on this city truly are to have this. And remind people who racing is alive and nicely after Mesa Marin closed.
“It closed in 2005 and this place reopened in 2013, so that you had an eight-yr hole of everyone considering it was simply lifeless and gone. Lots of people that may present up tonight, have not been to a race since Mesa Marin closed. You are going to reintroduce them to weekly racing and the Okay&N Collection and the Late Mannequin Collection and that is actually, actually necessary, as a result of this can be a big racing city. The one method it survives is thru the help of the followers, the rivals and the automotive rely.”
You possibly can rely Harvick amongst these devoted to the survival of grassroots racing by working towards precisely what he preaches from the bully pulpit of a Monster Power Cup Collection star.
Reid Spencer writes for the NASCAR Wire Service.