Race Weekend Central

Kevin Harvick Returns to Native Southern California, Where Future for Racing Remains Unclear

FONTANA, Calif. – Kevin Harvick is a NASCAR Cup Series champion, a two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, a Daytona 500 winner and a 60-time race winner at stock car racing’s highest level.

Before that, he was just a late model driver from Bakersfield, Calif. before his stock car career kicked into high gear. And as Harvick runs his final Cup season in 2023, returning to Auto Club Speedway for NASCAR’s final laps at the current fan- and driver-favorite two-mile configuration, it feels like the end of an era in more ways than one. 

Speaking to the press, including Frontstretch, as rain (and snow) battered the Inland Empire, Harvick reflected on the impact the track has had on his long and illustrious career. 

“I don’t really have any bad memories [of Auto Club],” the 47-year-old said. “I think for me, probably going back to 2002, winning the IROC race and then driving home and running a late model race at my home track in Mesa Marin [Raceway]. … Back in 1998, winning the Winston West race was really what kicked off my career. … There’s been a lot of great things that have happened for me at this particular racetrack.” 

See also
NASCAR 101: Closing a Chapter on Auto Club Speedway

Although Harvick’s native southern California went without a Cup Series date in the eight years between the demise of Riverside International Raceway in 1989 and the debut of what is now Auto Club in 1997, that doesn’t mean there was no stock car racing in the region — far from it. 

“One thing that California doesn’t get enough credit for is what a car culture it has,” Harvick said. “Racing falls into that car culture. … I was fortunate to grow up in Bakersfield … you [could] race anything you wanted to [there], and still pretty much can. … That’s a racing town that you could pick right up and put in Mooresville [N.C.], and it would fit right in.”

Harvick is just the most famous of his generation of SoCal short-trackers, a community strong enough to attract the Craftsman Truck Series to Mesa Marin nine times between its inaugural 1995 season and 2003. The October 1995 event even saw a hometown kid wheel a family-owned No. 72 Chevrolet to a 27th-place result in his NASCAR national series debut.

His name? Kevin Harvick.

“I couldn’t be where I’m at [without] … the local support,” Harvick explained. “We have a group … that have supported me pretty much my whole life in everything I do, from racing to the foundations to just being your friends. So it’s always fun to go back to town.”

Before the NASCAR circus descended on Fontana this weekend, Harvick made the two-and-a-half hour drive up Interstate 5 on Thursday (Feb. 23), both to film a NASCAR on FOX retrospective with some fellow Mesa Marin racing veterans and to volunteer at his local high school with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and his Kevin Harvick Foundation.

“It’s good to be involved,” Harvick said. “… The key to being a role model, and a consistent giver is [to] consistently do it … and it doesn’t take any money. … We went to the Boys & Girls Club yesterday in town, and they told me that they deliver 5,000 meals a day to the local community. Some of the schools, 70% of the kids are on meal programs, so there’s a lot of room for help that it’s not overly complicated to be a part of.”

Due to a donation from sponsor GearWrench, Harvick also explained that the shop program has been restarted at his high school.

“I never thought I’d see the day that they’re working on cars [again], and back in woodshop, welding and using machinery and things like that in a class,” Harvick said.

See also
Weather Pushes NASCAR Xfinity Race to Sunday

Harvick will trade his Stewart-Haas Racing firesuit for a suit and tie and join the FOX Sports broadcast team at the end of 2023, and he’s already got an analytical perspective on the future of the sport in southern California, a sport he considers healthy at the grassroots level.

“Between Irwindale [Speedway] and Kern County Raceway,” he said. “The participation levels at those particular facilities and around this part of the country seems to be doing OK.”

While he’s been happy to call Fontana “a great one-race-a-year facility,” for the past decade-plus, Harvick is less optimistic about the national series going forward.

 “From a NASCAR Cup Series standpoint … way more goes into the equation than what I like or don’t like about the racetrack,” Harvick said. “… We were here [at the LA Memorial Coliseum] a couple of weeks ago. … Can this market handle both of those races? Probably not. It didn’t before.” 

Auto Club held two Cup Series events per year between 2004-10, but dropped to one 400-miler per year beginning with the 2011 Auto Club 400. Harvick won that race with a memorable last-lap pass on fellow Californian Jimmie Johnson in what is maybe the single most memorable moment in the track’s 26-year history.

“It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here … what gets built [in Fontana],” Harvick said. “For me, that won’t be something that I see [as a driver] — I’ll see it, but I won’t be on it, so it’ll be interesting. … I can tell you that this surface has meant a lot to me through the years.”

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that both Kevin Harvick and the Auto Club Speedway we know are going away after 2023, and nobody is quite sure how either icon of stock car racing in southern California will change in the years to come.

About the author

swansey.jack

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast,but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
dawg

Harvick makes reference to the fact that the area might not support both the Clash in the Colosseum & Fontana. It looked to me like the Clash crowd was down considerably from last year. This is a novelty event, & it looks like the novelty had worn off. It would seem like the best program would be to rotate it around to various short tracks, & they wouldn’t have to all be pavement shows. It would be much cheaper to bring in some temporary seating than to build a single use track. True that works for the Chili Bowl, but that’s a six day show.

TiminPayson

Fontana real estate too valuable. Watch NASCAR make a points event out of the Coliseum.

Share via