Today we salute two 38-year-old race car drivers who were born in the San Joaquin Valley, dreamed of making it big and persevered over numerous obstacles to see their dreams realized.
Kevin Harvick grew up not far from Bakersfield Speedway, received a go-kart on his seventh birthday and won a late-model championship at Mesa Marin Raceway when he was 18. But then his career stalled and Harvick enrolled at Bakersfield College with designs on becoming an architect.
“That all changed in 1997, when he was offered a job in the shop — not as a driver —at Spears Motorsports in Southern California,” wrote Mike Griffith of the Bakersfield Californian in a column Sunday. “Halfway through the season, he was driving for Spears on the Craftsman Truck Series. He's been racing full time ever since.”
Now, after winning the final two races of the season in dramatic fashion, including Sunday’s 400-miler in Homestead, Florida, Harvick is champion of 2014 Sprint Cup series, the most popular and most competitive racing series in America.
Tulare-born Matt Crafton grew up in a racing family. His dad, Danny, drove late models and was a regular on the Southwest Tour. Matt also received a go-kart at age 7 — his was a present for graduating from kindergarten. Crafton raced at many of the Valley tracks — Visalia’s Plaza Park, Madera Speedway and, of course, the Tulare Thunderbowl, to name a few — before moving up the ranks.
Like Harvick, his big break came with a regular ride in NASCAR’s Trucks Series. Unlike Harvick, he has stayed there, always telling reporters that the trucks offer the best racing and that he’d rather have a good ride in that series than be stuck in marginal Sprint Cup cars.
Consistency is Crafton’s trademark. Yes, he can put the pedal to the metal, but he races clean and doesn’t tear up his equipment. Friday night, he became the first back-to-back Trucks Series champion in NASCAR history.
Harvick and Crafton now live in North Carolina, which is where the stock-car racing industry is headquartered. But many Valley racing fans remember the racers’ formative years when they were bumping and trading paint with local drivers, and taking the checkered flags.
Their achievements are a reminder of what’s possible when you set goals and work hard. Though Harvick and Crafton are hardly youngsters in a sport in which the ability to react in a split second is crucial, we wouldn’t be surprised if they capture more championships in the years ahead.