• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DeLANA HARVICK ON THE RACING BIZ

DeLana Harvick is one of the more impressive people I've met in the more than four decades I've been in-and-around professional sports.

She grew up in motorsports. DeLana's father, John Paul Linville, drove in NASCAR's Busch Series until 1995. "I was at the racetrack every weekend, so I didn't really do a lot of kid things," she explains. "I didn't do soccer or brownies or anything like that. I was always with my dad at the track."

What's of interest to readers of this blog is DeLana began her racing career as double Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie's public relations representative. "PR is my first love and I think that’s what I do best," she told me.

She married Kevin Harvick in February 2001, less than two weeks after Dale Earnhardt's death. Kevin was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight as owner Richard Childress' choice to take over the white and renumbered No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet. He won a thriller at Atlanta just over a week after their wedding.

Kevin Harvick Inc. fields teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Series. Ron Hornaday Jr. will go for the Truck championship this Friday at Homestead in KHI's Camping World Chevrolet Silverado. KHI has about 80 employees and DeLana's office is in the 70,000 square-foot shop in Kernersville, N.C.

This is part one of our conversation.

Q. Why did you and Kevin decide to start your own team?
A. It started with the Truck. Kevin had never won a Truck race. So, in 2001, we decided to build a Truck, just to go out and race. We had a fifth-wheel trailer and guys who would just come in and help, no employees. The first time we ran we finished second and almost won. That was just more of a prodding, ‘We can do this. We can go out and run these races.’ Kevin finally won in a Truck we built.

It evolved into a full-time Truck team with full-time sponsorship. On the Busch side, someone came to us and said, ‘I’m interested in running some Busch races. Would you want to do that?’ We thought, ‘Yes, sounds like fun.’ That was the beginning of our Busch team. It just grew and evolved from there.

Q. Ron Hornaday Jr. told me you are the "boss." How do you describe your role within KHI?
A. I don’t have a typical 9-5 job. I think I do a pretty good job putting on different hats depending on what the situation calls for. I hope the employees view me as a good sounding board and someone who’s fair.

When you run your own business, sometimes your heart tells you to do one thing, but your head tells you to do another. That’s been the hardest part for me. Especially when it comes to having to let people go, or make tough decisions when it comes to budgets. Really understanding what it takes to run a successful business is not always necessarily what you want to do with your heart.

Q. Do you have a formal title?
A. I think I’m secretary. I think that means I’m the one who signs all the checks. I guess that’s a good title to have. If the trash needs to be emptied, I’ll empty the trash. If the toilet paper needs refilling, I’ll do that. If there’s a sponsor I need to go do hospitality for, I’ll do that. I think, sometimes, when you put formality into it, I don’t like that. I want people who want to be at KHI that are willing to do anything to make it successful and that’s part of what I hope to instill in people who come here is, you can’t do just one thing, and if you’re closed-minded on that, you’re probably not going to be what we need at KHI.

Q. Is this a seven-day-a-week job for you?
A. It depends on what part of the season. Sometimes I’m here from 8-to-8. There’s no one day that’s the same. Sometimes I choose to work from home, depending on what I’ve got lined up for the day. But, again, I never shut it off. My cell phone never goes off. I’m always in contact whether it’s E-mail or phone calls. You can’t step away from this, because if you do, you’re going to miss something.

Q. How did you learn the different aspects of running a racing business?
A. I can’t say I’ve completely learned. I’m learning every day. I think that’s the part that I’m so challenged by. It's not the typical desk job. I’m out on the shop floor listening to competition-related things, listening to marketing and public relations issues, and trying to come up with solutions for everything.

I think my background, being involved in racing from such an early age, I first and foremost was intrigued by the competition part. Then, as I graduated from college and started to work in the business side of the sport, I realized how much more was out there for me to learn. It’s challenging because I don’t do the same thing every day. I’m still learning and trying to get better and I think that’s what continues to drive me.

Q. Do you negotiate directly with Camping World, Dollar General and the other KHI sponsors?
A.
I have a good group who does that but I am involved when it comes to budgets and expenses and portions of the program. That’s the part that I’m most uncomfortable with because, at the end of the day, I want to race to be competitive but the budget is the hard balance. When you’re a competitive person your initial reaction is, ‘I need everything.’ What you have to realize is, you are racing on a budget, and at the end of the day, we have to be successful on what we have coming in. The more support we have coming in, the better, but it’s always a business for the sponsor and it has to make sense for them as well.

Q. Is Richard Childress a resource for you?
A. There’s always an open-door policy with Richard. He’s a good sounding board, but Kevin and I have taken this responsibility of running our teams on our own. We realized from the beginning we had to take baby steps. People assume we’re going to go Cup racing because that’s the next step. That’s not necessarily what we’re interested in. We’re racers. That’s what we do. But we want to have fun.

To me, Cup racing, owning Cup teams, is not necessarily the direction I see KHI going. I would go almost so far as to say that I would likely rule it out. The Cup series is so competitive and if you’re not a multi-car team, almost a powerhouse team, you’re going to struggle. Kevin and I don't necessarily have a life outside of KHI, but I know we wouldn’t have a life outside KHI if we had Cup teams. That’s not really interesting to us.

Coming soon, more with DeLana Harvick, including what she has to say about PR -- including the public image of her sometimes controversial husband.
********************************************************************
Let's turn to NHRA for a moment: Please check out my "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. It looks back on 2007 and the two issues that will be foremost going into 2008. Here's the link:
http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article11.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_mk_bor_02&title=2007%20Powerade%20Drag%20Racing%20Series%20Recap
********************************************************************
Here are links most of my Arizona Republic stories from last weekend's NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway. Please note the first one, a transcript of my exclusive one-on-one conversation with NASCAR Chairman Brian France. Space in Sunday's paper didn't permit me to use it all, so there will be more of this interview in Friday's Republic. And, I'll have more from France in next week's blog:

Brian France Q&A:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1110france1111.html

The NASCAR Super Teams: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107nascarteams.html

Open-wheel drivers to NASCAR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1109openwheelers1110.html

JJ Yeley's Race Day:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1111yeleyside1112.html

Busch Series race preview (Carl Edwards):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107pirbusch.html

Craftsman Truck race preview (Mike Skinner-Ron Hornaday Jr.):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107pirtrucks.html

Who/What to Watch for at PIR:
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/sports/articles/1108pirhotnot1108.html

Thanks to Claire B. Lang for an enjoyable interview on XM Radio last weekend.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]