- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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KERNERSVILLE, N.C. -- The office is filled with the scent of blooming jasmine from a candle burning on a nearby table. On the wall above the sofa is a large portrait of a chihuahua and two German shepherds, otherwise known as Lo, Bebe and Endy. The walls are painted neutral, light tan and white, with accent lights in the book shelves highlighting red decorative pots.
It is light and airy.
On the opposite end of the building that houses 150 employees is another office painted dark red. There is an accent candle, but it's not lit and seldom is except when the owner tries to annoy everyone on the floor with what he considers a stinky smell. The room is filled with die-cast cars, trophies and racing pictures. A large flat-screen television hangs directly across from the desk.
It has almost a sports bar kind of feel.
These are the offices, respectively, of DeLana and Kevin Harvick at Kevin Harvick Inc., a far cry from what they shared 10 years ago when they first established the company as a Truck series team.
"Our desks were beside each other, and our phones were beside each other," DeLana said. "That was honestly my only request when we moved here. I wanted to be as far away from him as possible, so I'm on this end and he's on that end.
"He can watch pit-stop practice and everything in the shop from his end. I don't really need to see that."
But make no mistake, they work closely together as the co-owners of KHI, which now fields Trucks and Nationwide Series cars. And make no mistake, DeLana is much more than a pretty face or the girl in the firesuit, as she has become known by many.
She is a shrewd businesswoman, a recent recipient of the Business Journal's 12th annual Women in Business award in the North Carolina Triad (Greensboro and surrounding areas) for her overseeing the marketing, licensing and public relations side of KHI.
There is no better example of her business savvy than last year, when Joe Gibbs Racing driver Joey Logano, during a dispute with Kevin at Pocono, said, "His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do."
Within 24 hours DeLana, 37, had white T-shirts with pink lettering saying, "I wear the firesuit in this family" for sale on the KHI website.
But DeLana wears the firesuit only during races, and she does that to promote safety in the pit box, not to make a fashion statement. The rest of her time she spends working behind the desk in this immaculately kept office or in the boardroom with sponsors and marketers -- in casual business attire, for the record.
She is fast becoming one of the most influential women in NASCAR, rivaling International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy, JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt and driver Danica Patrick.
In many ways she has taken over the mantle of Teresa Earnhardt, who helped Dale Earnhardt build Dale Earnhardt Inc. into a racing empire before his 2001 death.
That DeLana is the wife of the driver who replaced Earnhardt makes the whole thing a bit ironic.
"DeLana is looked upon as a model for others to follow," said Kelley Earnhardt, one of Earnhardt's four children. "She is successful with Kevin Harvick Inc., and if you are successful, you are influential. She has her beliefs and values, and she stands up for those.
"People like that. Whether people agree with you or not, people like to see you stand up for your beliefs. And she does that."
Some suggest DeLana has been key to transforming her husband, who is second in the Sprint Cup standings after collecting his series-best third victory on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, into a more engaging personality on and off the track.
"I call it a gift," said Brad Brown, the senior director of sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch, which sponsors Harvick's Cup car. "I really do. With her background in PR, she passes on those tricks of the trade to Kevin from the standpoint we find him unbelievably engaging for commercial shoots and things."
"Give DeLana credit."
DeLana was in the Charlotte Motor Speedway's Speedway Club for the traditional Coca-Cola 600 champagne toast after Kevin's win on Sunday when asked what she thought of the crazy finish in which leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas coming into the final turn.
"With everything that was happening and everybody screaming in my ear I'm blonde," she said. "I don't compute things quickly."
Don't let the blonde comment fool you. DeLana knew what was going on. She often gets as emotional as her husband -- as we saw a few weeks earlier -- when she was standing and screaming as Kyle Busch wrecked the No. 29 in the closing laps.
She knew what she was doing then, just as she knew what was happening when Harvick blasted around Earnhardt for the victory.
DeLana knows racing better than the wives of most drivers, and that should come as no surprise. After all, she grew up in the pits as the daughter of a Nationwide Series driver and mechanic, and began her professional career doing public relations for former Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie.
There was a time she thought about being a driver, too.
"My dad was very old-school Southern, and girls didn't belong behind the wheel," DeLana said. "So there was a battle. I tried it, but that was right about the time I had graduated college and I was working, and I had met Kevin and it never panned out for me."
And no, she never got to compete with Kevin.
"I don't know that I ever would want to do that," DeLana said. "I've never ridden in a race car with Kevin, either. People ask me, 'Why wouldn't you do that?' I think I would probably critique and tell him what he's doing wrong. I do that anyway when I'm not in the car with him."
But DeLana doesn't do that without putting some thought into it. She's the same way in a board meeting, often sitting quietly for a while, digesting all that is said, then forming an opinion to share.
Then, at times, she can be quite outspoken.
Oh, yeah, she has some stout opinions. That's probably what makes it work so good. We're both very opinionated about how things should be. I guess we challenge each other to push each other.
”-- Kevin Harvick on wife and business partner DeLana
"Oh, yeah, she has some stout opinions," Kevin said with a smile. "That's probably what makes it work so good. We're both very opinionated about how things should be. I guess we challenge each other to push each other.
"If the other disagrees with what you're thinking is right, it makes you stop and think about the decisions you're making."
Sometimes they take their business issues home. It's hard not to when the two are consumed 24/7 as much as they are.
"We live this," DeLana said. "So it's a fantasy to think it's not going to come home with us. We're on the road so much of the year, and we're here until eight, nine, 10 o'clock sometimes, there's no way that can't go home with you.
"But that's the good thing about us. I may scream at him and he may yell at me, but I listen to what he's saying. I realize he has a valid point. You have to look at everything from every perspective, and he and I are very good at that."
It's well past midnight in Darlington, S.C., and DeLana is standing outside the NASCAR hauler while Kevin and Kyle Busch meet with top brass over their postrace pit-road confrontation.
Yes, she's still in her red firesuit.
DeLana chose to start wearing the suit shortly after her husband took over for Earnhardt, when the sport was abuzz about improving safety. It has become a joke for some, as we saw with Logano last year and at a Budweiser roast for Kevin earlier this year when everybody cracked on it.
Some don't take DeLana seriously because of the suit. That is a mistake, and perhaps honors such as the one by the Business Journal will change perceptions.
"You can't help what people think about you and perceptions are always going to be things you really can't control," DeLana said. "I'm not going to spend my life trying to control perceptions.
"The genuineness and my passion about this company and what we do I hope will always come through no matter if I wear the firesuit or whatever they think."
She's right. She shouldn't be measured by what she wears any more than a businessman is judged by whether he wears a designer suit or something off the shelf at the local department store.
"Anyone that does business with her or has interactions with her knows that she is someone to respect and admire," Kelley Earnhardt said. "She's invested and leads her business interests with that in mind."
Back in the office
DeLana shuffles a stack of papers on her desk until they are completely aligned. If there was a crooked picture on the wall, she would be straightening that.
An office can say a lot about a person's personality, whether he or she is a neat freak or messy. DeLana's says everything about her.
"It says I'm a tranquil sort of person," she said. "I like to be surrounded by comfortable things to keep me calm. There are neutral colors but with splashes of red that are kind of fiery."
There were some really impressive women on that list. I just get up and go to work every day, and I'm happy.
”-- DeLana Harvick on her Women in Business award
In real life, Kevin is the fiery splash that complements DeLana's personality. Together they are well on their way to becoming, if they already aren't, NASCAR's first couple in the way that Earnhardt and Teresa were.
"Very similar," said Richard Childress, Earnhardt's owner for six of his seven championships. "From the business side of it, both of those ladies as far as looking after their husband's image have played a big role."
DeLana doesn't look at herself as a great businesswoman as much as she does somebody doing a job that she loves. She almost laughs at being included on the Business Journal's honored list with bank presidents, CEOs of major corporations and college professors.
"There were some really impressive women on that list," DeLana said. "I just get up and go to work every day, and I'm happy."
She's even happier now that she and Kevin aren't sharing an office. So is he.
"That was a mistake," Kevin said. "It's a lot like marriage. You learn to pick and choose the battles that you really need to fight. When you're sitting side by side, you hear a phone conversation or see something that really shouldn't be considered in the conversation, and then you wind up having an opinion and it causes an argument.
"The separate offices are good. Everyone gets to do their own thing."
Well, there is one thing Kevin does in his wife's office.
"Kevin has a bathroom in his office, but he likes to use mine," DeLana said. "I don't know why that is."
In the interest of maintaining harmony, that question was posed to Kevin.
"I understand why," he said. "When we built the shop, there was this thing called a budget. In the end, it allowed for only one shower, and it was in her bathroom. If you get right down to it, I guess you could call her a cheapskate."
Most good businessmen and women are.
So as you can see, Kevin isn't the only successful Harvick in the family.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.