Kevin Harvick is not the only Bakersfield native to make it big in a race car. Rick Mears won four Indianapolis 500’s in an iconic career in open wheel racing. Harvick went the stock car route, and the 38-year-old has become one of the elite drivers in the Sprint Cup series. Harvick moves over from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing on the cusp of competing for his first Sprint Cup championship (he’s finished third in the final standings for three of the last four years). Harvick is a dedicated hunter who has partnered with outdoor organizations like Realtree and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation during his career. He is the subject of our February cover story and dished about his first hunting experience, his infant son and the late legend Dale Earnhardt, whom Harvick stepped in for after Earnhardt’s tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500. Here’s our 2014 Q&A with Harvick:
CALIFORNIA SPORTSMAN Growing up in Bakersfield, were you always interested in being in the outdoors, or was that something that you became more interested in later on?
KEVIN HARVICK That was something that grew on me when I was older. In California, we would go out in the fields and hunt birds, squirrels and things like that when I was younger. But the more broad-based (types) of hunting animals came later in life.
CS Can you share one of your early hunting memories?
KH It probably came in California; we were out dove hunting and hanging out with my buddies. That always fun, just to hang out and shoot birds.
CS Obviously, being based in North Carolina and traveling to NASCAR tracks for 10 months a year, are you able to find a lot of time to hunt?
KH Not as much as I would like to. Obviously, being outdoors is something that I enjoy and have a lot of fun doing. But our schedule, and my son have definitely cut into my hunting time.
CS Where is your go-to hunting spot? Do you have a place you flock to when you have down time?
KH I don’t really have a go-to spot.(Pauses) Well, I’d say that’s not so true. I’d say my go-to spot is Realtree Farms.
CS Where is that?
KH It depends on which side of the state line you’re standing on (laughs). It’s mostly in Georgia.
CS Talk a little bit about the Kevin Harvick Foundation and what that means to you helping the community.
KH Oh, it’s so great to be able to do that and give back. We spend a lot of time in my hometown of Bakersfield and do a lot around our house in North Carolina in the Triad area (Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point). It’s fun to be able to give back and remember a lot of the people at home who progressed me in my career, Seeing them involved in the activities that we do in the community and allowing the opportunity to give back. We’re just trying to change the direction of kids’ lives; it’s fun for us and we’re glad to be a part of it.
CS You’ve also partnered up with a lot of hunting-related sponsors over the years like Realtree and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Does that mean a lot to you given your love for the outdoors?
KH I’m a lifetime member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Realtree was the first sponsor that I ever had at (Richard Childress Racing) when I ran an ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) race at Talladega. I’ve become good friends with (Realtree found) Bill Jordan. I’ve been a part of the Realtree family now for a long, long time. And Bill is the one person who really progressed my hunting career and exposed me to things I’ve never been exposed to before on that side of it. He really helped me to learn how to enjoy the outdoors.
CS You’re joining Stewart-Haas Racing this season. Who is the better outdoorsman between you and your new teammate/boss, Tony Stewart?
KH (Laughs) Probably (Stewart), because he’s the single man who gets to spend more time outdoors. So I’d have to give that title to him on that one.
CS Are there fellow drivers you spend a lot of time hunting with?
KH You know, not as much I as used to. Just for the fact that we’ve been in a transition year of switching teams, and my son has been so young (and takes away from my time). But we go on different hunts with Bill Jordan and the guys from Realtree and just a lot of different people and different hunts. Someone new usually shows up on the next hunt.
CS For a long time driving for Richard Childress Racing, you kind of carried on the late legend Dale Earnhardt’s memory and legacy for the team. Besides being one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, Dale was also an avid outdoorsman. Do you have any memories of joining him on outdoor adventures?
KH I never had the chance to go with him on any outdoor trips, but Dale did give me first gun I guess in about 1997. (fellow driver) Ron Hornaday and I decided that we wanted to learn how to shoot skeet. But we didn’t have a gun. So we walked into Dale’s office, and he looked over his glasses over the mess on his desk and said, “What do you two idiots want?” We told him what we wanted to do and he went through this line of grief that he wanted to give us. He then proceeded to walk down the stairs and handed us each a shotgun and sent us out with an instructor, as he would say it, “To keep us from shooting our feet off.”
CS You are obviously in a high-intensity sport with a grueling schedule and a lot of traveling for 10 months of the year. Does being outdoors in nature give you some solace from that hectic lifestyle?
KH Well, I just love to be outside, which is a 180 from what we normally do on a day-to-day basis with the pace of things that we do. So it’s nice to be outside and listen to the peace of the outdoors. Something like that is always good for your mind.
CS Do you already plan to introduce your son, Keelan, to the great outdoors?
KH He loves to be outside already, so that won’t be very hard to do.
CS You’ve been knocking at the door in terms of winning a Sprint Cup points championship with a trio of third-place finishes since 2010. Does that give you a lot of confidence going forward with this transition to Stewart-Haas Racing?
KH Well, I feel confident in my ability to be able to drive the car. I know that everyone around me feels confident in what they can do. And I think we all came here for the same reason, and that was to win races and compete for a championship. I think that’s what everybody’s goals are. There will be some hurdles that would happen on any team no matter how long it’s along. So if we’re learning how to navigate those hurdles, everything else will hopefully come together really well.
CS You’re a pretty big-time golfer, too. What part of your game are you most happy with, and where do you hope to get better?
KH On July 8, 2012 my golf game took a serious blow, as on that day my son came into the world. My game wasn’t very good to start with. Golf is a lot like hunting: I enjoy being outside and playing the game. But I don’t really have the time to focus on it. But I love it, and all aspects of golf need attention in my game. But probably the best part of my game, which still isn’t very good, is my driver.
CS Back to hunting, do you have a must do/must go on places/species you’d like to hunt someday?
KH I don’t really have a bucket list to say the least, just for the fact it’s really something I more casually do. It’s not a 100 percent passion I guess you’d say. It’s not something that I have do. I just enjoy being a part of hunting.
CS You’re known as an aggressive and proactive driver. Do you take that same approach on a hunt in terms of strategy in stalking?
KH I don’t take anything aggressively on a hunt, because it’s a rare time to relax. And I kind of treat it more of a time to take it easy more than anything. But you can’t rush anything when you’re hunting. You have to let it all come to you, so you to be patient, which is hard for me to do.