“Racing is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” Harvick said. “In 1997, when I was attending Bakersfield Junior College, the time came for me to make a choice about my future: I either had to focus on racing full-time, or decide on a new profession and begin training for it. I chose racing, and I’ve never looked back.”
It was a dream that began after graduating kindergarten, when JoNell and Mike Harvick bought their 6-year-old son, Kevin, a go-cart. A gift that, 29 years later, would bring racing fans from Bakersfield, CA, to Charlotte, NC, to his 300th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.
Harvick spent 10 years racing go-carts, winning seven National Champions and two Grand National titles, and even then demonstrated the hard charging attitude that would make him a household name in the future.
In high school, "Happy" began racing in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Series, and wrestled for his varsity team during the winter months. He would run his first full time Elite Series, winning Rookie of the Year honors, and Harvick made his way up to the NASCAR Winston West Series.
But it didn't come without making a difficult decision. Harvick had enrolled in Bakersfield Community College to get a degree in architecture. And while choosing between an education and racing career couldn't have been easy, there's no question Harvick made the right choice.
In 1998, Harvick won his first NASCAR Winston West Series championship, backing it up with his five wins. At the same time, Harvick was attempting to make a name for himself in the then Craftsman Truck Series. He started 44 races from the time he was 19 to 22, collecting three top fives and seven top 10s.
It was during his time running for his father and then Wayne Spears that Harvick caught the eye of NASCAR owner Richard Childress.
He offered the 22-year-old a ride in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he debuted at Rockingham Speedway in October, 1999.
Because of an engine failure, the young driver finished 42nd. However, his Truck Series career was improving, as he finished in the top five six times and garnered 11 top 10s.
The following season, 2000, Harvick would focus all his energy on his NASCAR Busch Series Rookie of the Year campaign.
His blue and white ACDelco No. 2 Chevrolet would land in Victory Lane three times, the first coming in his 14th start of the season at Dover, and the others coming at the Gateway International Raceway and a win from the pole in Bristol.
Harvick's crazy year would eclipse with his third-place finish in the points and Rookie of the Year honors.
Little did Harvick, or anyone else, know the next would would be even crazier.
On Feb. 18, 2001, Richard Childress Racing driver Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in a wreck in the closing laps of the Daytona 500.
The next week, just days after marrying wife DeLana, it was 25-year-old Kevin Harvick who would take over the renumbered No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet the following week at Rockingham, where he finished 14th.
Three weeks into his Winston Cup Career, Harvick won his first race, barely beating out Jeff Gordon to win the Cracker Barrel Old County Store 500. His crew, inherited from "The Intimidator," was shown teary eyed and celebrating on pit road.
"I don't know how you can script it any different," Happy said. "None of us could've expected this, this soon. The unfortunate circumstances and all I've got to say is this one's for Dale."
Not bad for a kid who just a few years before was living on Ron Hornaday, Jr.'s couch.
Harvick would go on to win the inaugural race at Chicagoland Speedway, collected six top fives, and 16 top 10s, enroute to finishing ninth in Cup points standings, despite missing the first race. He also won the 2001 Rookie of the Year award.
Oh, and did I mention that he ran the entire Busch Series, winning five races, 20 top fives and the Busch Series Championship?
All in a days work for Kevin Harvick.
Winning a race in 2002 didn't keep "Happy" from avoiding a sophomore slump. He ended the year with six DNFs, an average finish of 22nd and finished 21st in points. There was a bright spot, however: Harvick captured his first IROC Championship.
His success on track, though, has often been overshadowed by off track incidents. He was suspended in 2002 after a post race incident with Greg Biffle, and threatening (and then acting on) wrecking Coy Gibbs during a Truck Series event.
"Happy" has also gotten into altercations with Ricky Rudd, Joe Nemecheck, Matt Kenseth, and even former teammates Jeff Green and Robby Gordon.
Oh, and he called Kurt Busch "rubberhead", among other things.
In 2003, Harvick won the Brickyard 400 after starting on the pole, and despite three winless seasons since has seen even more success. He became the 2007 Daytona 500 Champion—his last trip to Victory Lane—and since '03 has capture six other wins, 53 top fives and 98 top 10s.
"Happy" and his wife DeLana are also the owners of Kevin Harvick Incorporated. Started in a friends garage in 2001, KHI has since become a race and championship winning organization.
With Ron Hornaday, Jr.—who opened his home to Harvick when he first moved to North Carolina—behind the wheel of one of their Camping World Truck Series machines, won the series championship in 2007, and has won 14 races for the team.
In the Bristol Nationwide Series race this year, Harvick scored his first win driving his own KHI No. 33 Armour Meats Chevrolet.
Which brings us to 2009. This weekend, Harvick will be making his 300th Sprint Cup Series start. With an average finish of 22.7, the now 32-year-old will be looking to break his 84 race winless streak with a win in at Pocono Raceway.
Thanks to Kevin Harvick, Racing Reference and FOX Sports for the information, stats and quotes used in this article.
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