- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Championships weren't the initial reason Kevin Harvick decided to go truck racing -- he was simply chasing the one that had gotten away.
On his way to the top ranks of NASCAR, Harvick's years in the Craftsman Truck Series didn't include a victory. Once he'd won Busch and Cup races, he was determined to win in a truck.
Wife DeLana, the daughter of a racer, supported his dream and Kevin Harvick Inc. was born in 2001. KHI has since won races in both the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series and now there's a championship trophy in Kernersville, N.C., as well.
Ron Hornaday Jr. saw to that in November when he captured the truck title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That it was Hornaday who won the title brought the type of story that seemingly happens only in racing full circle. When Harvick first moved to North Carolina from his native California, he slept on a couch in Hornaday's home.
Harvick never forgot that generosity and hired Hornaday to drive his Chevrolet Silverados in 2005. Now Harvick, who has won two Busch championships as a driver, has an owner's title to share with his wife.
DeLana had celebrated the championships Kevin won on the track, but this one belongs to her every bit as much.
"There's nothing that can quite describe the feeling that you have when it's your own and your own team because we're there every day with these guys and we see how hard they work," DeLana said. "Coming into [the finale at Homestead], I told Kevin, it's got to be over for me. I can't go up and down anymore. My emotions were completely shot. I don't know how these guys do what they do every weekend because for me being a competitor is emotionally draining. To watch this race unfold was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life.
"The 33 team, they've been so resilient and they're so determined, and Ron Hornaday, what can you say about him? To watch him battle like he has, and to battle Mike Skinner, they mean so much to the truck series. That's what's so cool for Kevin and I is Ron has done so much for Kevin, and to be able to give back to him, that's just not a feeling that you can describe."
Hornaday was in need of a ride for '05, and Harvick felt his team needed another driver to take the next step forward. To say it's been a mutually beneficial pairing would be understating the point.
"For me it's obviously a little bit more personal than it probably has been for a lot of other people, but to share that moment with him on the backstretch [Harvick was also in the Ford 200] and be the first one to congratulate him, that's something I'll never forget," Harvick said.
The Harvicks may have done a lot for Hornaday, but Kevin Harvick knows none of it would have been possible if Hornaday hadn't helped him get started in the first place.
The initial feeling left Harvick looking for the words to explain it all.
"It's pride, it's satisfaction, it's the most rewarding thing that you can do as a person. To be able to give something back to somebody is -- I mean, you can't put a price on it. You really can't."
Harvick credits Hornaday with helping him make the move from the truck series to Busch. And it wasn't just any ride in the Busch Series, either -- it was with Richard Childress Racing.
"When somebody goes out of their way to help you, and Hornaday was the one who basically kind of brokered the deal back and forth between myself and Childress because I had a contract and he was the one who made it all happen. I grew up on the West Coast racing with Hornaday, and he just -- I really don't know how to put it into words, other than all of the above, other than it's rewarding, it's satisfying, and when you can give back to somebody and be successful it's probably the most rewarding thing that you can ever be a part of."
I got offered more money to go other places, but when Kevin asked me to do it, we never talked about price. I just said, 'Yes, I'll do it.'
-- Ron Hornaday Jr.
Hornaday said he had other options for 2005, but he knew KHI was where he wanted to be.
With seven wins and a championship -- his third in the series -- it's clear Hornaday made a solid choice.
"I got offered more money to go other places, but when Kevin asked me to do it, we never talked about price. I just said, 'Yes, I'll do it,'" Hornaday said. "He asked me to do Busch races, I don't ask him how much he pays me, I'm just going to do it because we win races, he'll take care of me, and that's what I always felt. Money will fall where it falls.
"If I get an opportunity to win, I know Kevin Harvick, what he's done with his dad and what they've done in their racing career. When Kevin Harvick was the kid for seven years at Bakersfield, they've had [underfunded] equipment. When Kevin built that [KHI] shop and he came down to Phoenix and whipped everybody's butt in a truck [for his first win in the series, in 2002], I knew it was going to run good. When he gave me that phone call, him personally himself, and I got hired over the phone, I didn't even have to go see him."
The Harvicks agree they have no plans for making a move to Cup in the near future. Kevin said his focus is on winning Sprint Cup races with RCR and that trying to own a Cup team at the same time would detract from that focus.
KHI will go for another truck series championship in 2008 with a pair of full-time teams featuring three-time champions Jack Sprague and Hornaday. The team will field one full-time entry in the Nationwide Series, with a second team running a handful of races.
Kevin Harvick said the key is putting the right people in the right places, and with general manager Rick Carelli and crew chief Rick Ren, all the pieces were in place for Hornaday.
Putting that puzzle together isn't easy. But when it works, it's all worth it.
"To employ 80 people, somewhere around 80 people, is something that's [daunting]. You're responsible for a lot of people," Kevin Harvick said. "And to see it start from one truck, a bunch of guys from RCR, and evolve into 70,000 square feet, four race teams, is something that's also very rewarding to be a part of that as you've built it from basically dirt, from scratch, and see it evolve into a championship-winning organization is very gratifying."
DeLana Harvick knows it's been a team effort from the start. There were times when she'd ask her husband why they were doing it all, but she wouldn't trade the experience.
"It's odd because when I'm down, he's not, and when he's down, I'm not," DeLana Harvick said. "I think that's been the best part of how we've kind of evolved and made it through this process of building a company. It's moments like this that you realize why you do it.
"You can't put into words what it means to watch these guys every day, every night. They're there until early in the morning sometimes because they have to and they care so much about it, and it's hard to find people that care as much about your company as you do. But we've found those people and we're starting to put them in the right places. It's all about the people; it's not about having the fastest trucks. It is, but if you don't have the right people in the right place it's never going to work.
"And that's probably been the most difficult part of what we've had to do is learn how to manage people. We're just kind of a couple kids who wanted to start a race team, and it's evolved. We've just been fortunate to have good people and people that believe in what we're doing."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Ron Hornaday Jr. driving for Kevin and DeLana Harvick is a match made in race-truck heaven, writes Mark Ashenfelter.