HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina -- As a Southern California kid, there was no doubt where Kevin Harvick wanted to be - the NASCAR Winston Cup. He formulated his path to the big leagues: first go-karts, then late models and the Southwest Series, and eventually the Winston West and Trucks. Harvick's prospect of the NASCAR Busch and Winston Cup Series came when a celebrated team owner, Richard Childress, came knocking at his door. The kid from Bakersfield, Calif., spent his life making sure he'd get there, and he did.
Harvick made his way through the stepping ladder NASCAR has diligently built for that specific purpose. He followed the rules, he made the proper strides. In fact, if an eight-year-old version of the 2001 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year had to list his racing heroes they would include: Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, and... Rick Mears?
That's right. Rick Mears. While not a stock car driver by trade, the legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner garnered plenty of fans world wide - but perhaps none so dedicated as those in Southern California where Mears raced motorcycles and dune buggies before being snatched up by renowned car owner Roger Penske.
This weekend the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service team and driver Kevin Harvick head to the hallowed ground of Mears' open-wheeled world as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series takes the banks of the Indianapolis (Ind.) Motor Speedway (IMS). For a lot of drivers it may just be another track and another weekend, but for Harvick, it's a visit to a hero's most cherished stomping ground.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet Monte Carlo, talks about Rick Mears, IROC, running Indy, and soft walls:
On hero Rick Mears: "Running at Indy is somewhat of a dream come true. I grew up racing with heroes that were not only the stock car bunch like Rusty Wallace, but also the open-wheel guys. Rick Mears, I'd have to say, is one of my biggest heroes. He won Indianapolis (500) four times (1979, 84, 88, 91) and got six poles there. I mean, he's the guy. He's a class act. It makes Indy special- to share a track where all that happened for him. It doesn't matter what I'm driving - stock car, IROC car, whatever. Just being there is pretty cool."
International Race of Champions Harvick leads the IROC Series in points. Vying for the championship this weekend at the final (of four) event, Harvick is followed by Al Unser, Jr. and Tony Stewart. "IROC. Getting the Championship would be pretty cool. I just think it's a tough series. They make the cars so even that you have to wait for the guy in front of you to make a mistake to get by them. And if you miss his mistake, you lost your opportunity. I start from the very back this time around since the field is inverted by point standings. I'm going to be practicing a whole bunch. I plan on investing some time in this while we're there. I just think the IROC Series is a cool thing."
Racing at IMS: "It's got a lot more grip than it had last year, with the grooves and stuff in the race track. It's still the same racetrack it was last year, though. You're still fighting, trying to get the car to turn up off and not to have it too loose in the center. We have a pretty good racecar. We tested both the Chicago car and a car we call Pumpkin - because it was bright orange when we tested it at Indy. We had decided to come back with Pumpkin. But then I got to thinking, I just really want to bring the Chicago car back. It's No. 88, we just ran it this weekend in Pocono (Pa.). Both cars were really good, but I just gotta go with 88."
Soft Walls: "I don't even pay attention to all that stuff. We just worry about what we've got to worry about and what we can control."