2014 NASCAR Champion Kevin Harvick is a man on a mission. With one eye firmly set on another series title, the 41-year old has another on bringing young fans to the sport he loves through his new venture into the world of sports agency and athlete management. Lee Spencer meets the man behind the project – once racing bad-boy turned businessman, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.
Kevin Harvick has softened his tone over the years.
That’s not to say the kid from Bakersfield, Calif., has lost his edge. Relentlessly aggressive on the race track, Harvick embraced his bad-boy image all the way to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in 2014.
Over the last two decades, Harvick has worn many hats – and helmets. From champion driver to successful race team owner, to sports agent under his Kevin Harvick, Inc. Management umbrella, the 41-year-old entrepreneur has developed a unique understanding of sponsorship and promotion.
When Monster Energy took over the sponsorship of NASCAR’s premier series this season, the company’s marketing objective encouraged drivers’ personalities to come to the fore. The edgier the better. His most recent project, Happy Hours with Kevin Harvick, accomplishes just that.
In the debut of the two-hour weekly show, which airs on SiriusXM NASCAR radio on Tuesday nights, Harvick said he created the program “to give fans an inside look at what happens in our sport.”
“Everything has gotten lost in the shuffle as to what it really takes to be in the middle of the world of NASCAR,” Harvick added.
With Happy Hours, Harvick plans to guide fans through the intricacies of the sport while building his brand. And fans have the opportunity to hear fresh stories they would never be privy to in the sanitized corporate environment NASCAR has created for its athletes. Harvick’s gloves were off the first night – and, hopefully, will be for good.
Certainly, Harvick’s exposure to KHI’s clients in mixed martial arts, golf and racing provides him with great insight into the personality of each sport, as well as what demographic might best serve their sponsors.
“One reason why we dove into the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), was the fact that they have a very good millennial fan base,” Harvick said of KHI. “For us, we tried to create an agency of athletes and people that our sponsors can look at and say, ‘That’s a very diverse investment.’
“Obviously, we know where we are at here [at NASCAR] with our fan base. When you can diversify yourself with that type of [KHI] fan base, it gives you more options for the sponsors to entertain, to look at.”
With NASCAR’s aging fan base – and in some cases, aging drivers – there has been hope that Monster can also attract younger generations to the sport. To accomplish that challenge, however, Harvick believes the sport has to develop younger drivers that children, teenagers and millennials can relate to.
“I’m in a little bit of a different situation because I have a sponsor like Busch that is really in tune with where our fan base is from an age standpoint – where I’m at – and that’s exactly what they’re shooting for,” Harvick said. “For the sport in general to grow, there has to be a younger generation that’s enthused about what you’re doing.
“Some of the important things that need to happen are – a guy like Chase (Elliott) needs to win races. He was competitive last year. Kyle Larson obviously did a good job. He’s been competitive and needs to win races. I know the sponsorship side is what it is, but we have to have young stars who are winning races.”
As much as Harvick wants to win a second championship, he appreciates the necessity for NASCAR to crown a younger champion in the Monster Energy Cup Series. The last time a driver under 30 won the Cup title was Brad Keselowski in 2012. Prior to Keselowski, now 33, the last 20-something Cup champion was Jeff Gordon, who turned 30 en route to his fourth Cup title in 2001.
Harvick, who inherited the late Dale Earnhardt’s ride after the seven-time champion tragically died at the 2001 Daytona 500, watched the changing of the guard first-hand.
“When you look back at when Jeff Gordon came in, Dale Earnhardt wrapped his arm around him because of the fact that Dale knew Jeff was going to make the sport better; because it was a new generation,” Harvick said. “When you look at it from my standpoint, we need that younger generation to be competitive for our sport to get bigger because, if our sport gets bigger, than our brands get bigger.
“Where our sport is right now, it doesn’t seem like the young guys are winning as much when they start. When you look back at myself, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, when all those guys were coming through our rookie seasons, we were winning races. That, for whatever reason, hasn’t happened in several years and obviously didn’t happen last year. Kyle Larson is now winning races and is competitive on a weekly basis. Chase Elliott has been competitive. But we need those guys to win consistently, and that’s what’s going to change the sport, in my opinion.”
Try as Monster might by bringing Monster girls, Motocross or MMA to the race track, Harvick says an improved on-track product will cure all ills.
“Nothing trumps the athletes’ performance,” Harvick said. “No sponsor, no matter what the outlet is, will ever trump the athletes’ performance. That’s what we preach to our athletes. ‘If you want to get bigger, be the bigger star. If you want to be bigger, win more.’
“That’s what really makes it go around. The sport would become more popular with consistent young winners. The sport would become more popular with the younger generation.”
And if the wheels are put into motion now, then maybe NASCAR will be thriving when Harvick’s four-year-old son Keelan is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.