January 2005

    As the old saying goes, membership has its privileges. That statement is especially true for members of the Kevin Harvick fan club. Since 2002, Kevin and his wife, DeLana, have hosted an annual get-together as a way of saying thank you to Kevin's loyal supporters. While the previous events were held at Harvick's truck shop, this year's gathering was staged at Richard Childress Racing's 35-acre complex, offering the fans a perfect opportunity to experience the two things they love about NASCAR -- the car and the driver.

     From Canada to California and everywhere in between, nearly a thousand people of every age and background have come together at RCR, all of them decked out in their GM Goodwrench and Reese's gear. The day begins with a surprise appearance by team owner Richard Childress, who cheerfully signs autographs for the fans. The Harvicks arrive shortly afterwards, and after an introduction welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming out, Kevin and DeLana head into the Meeting Hall to begin the first of several autograph sessions.

     As the initial group of fans go inside for their meet-and-greet, some people pass the time by touring the sprawling RCR complex. Almost every building in the facility is open to the fan club members, including the Engineering, Fabrication and Engine Shops, which allows the visitors to see the step-by-step process for building the Busch and Cup cars. Other people sit and wait for their turn to see Harvick, talking with other fans and sharing stories about their favorite driver. April Kress traveled from Hanover, PA for her second chance to meet him. "I met Kevin last year in Dover," she explains. "I was waiting outside his trailer, and he invited me in to sign all my stuff." Her husband, Ben, adds, "That's what made me a fan, the fact that he took the time with her. Not all of the other drivers we've come across have been as nice as Kevin's been."

     Matt Grunow and his girlfriend, Jeanna Kruse, made the short trip from Charlotte and use the fan club gathering as a way to meet friends from the internet. "A bunch of us got to know each other in the chat room on," Matt says. "Some of us got together for the first time in person at the club gathering two years ago, and since then, we've become really close. I met Jeanna in the chat room and now we're living together. Another couple met in the chat room and ended up getting married. The common bond is that we're all Harvick fans. Win, lose, rain or shine, we're with him until the end."

     In between autograph sessions, Harvick entertains the crowd by taking the stage for several other events. An auction of one-of-a-kind items is held to benefit the Victory Junction Gang. The unique Harvick memorabilia includes a damaged hood from one of his Craftsman trucks and a race-used Reese's helmet. The pit crews from the #29, #21 and #6 teams stop by to sign autographs and participate in an audience Q & A. Harvick and the boys get plenty of laughs from their good-natured banter as the crew tells stories about trying to make their boss happy and having only fourteen seconds to do it.

     Back in the Meeting Hall, Chris Williams from Stanley, VA waits patiently in line for his chance to get a banged-up right side panel from the #29 car signed. "Our whole house is basically a shrine to Harvick," he says enthusiastically. "I have a bumper from one of his trucks that I won in an auction at the last fan club event, and I've got a couple of used tires laying around, too. I have all of his stand-ups, and every time we eat dinner, Harvick's right there at the table. It's pretty much a lifestyle." Like many others in attendance here, Harvick first came to Williams' attention after the 2001 tragedy in Daytona. "I was an Earnhardt fan, and after he died, I watched racing but didn't really get into it anymore. Harvick comes in and pulls out three wins his first year in that car, and I thought, 'Whoa, there's something to this guy.' Ever since then, he's the only driver I root for."

     Bob and Leslie Beck from Pittsburgh, PA are not only members of Harvick's fan club, they're also members of Jeff Gordon's, which gives them an opportunity to compare the two organizations. Attendance at Gordon's club events are limited, which forces members to enter a lottery for a chance to meet him. "We didn't care for that," says Leslie. "We were lucky enough to be chosen once, but there are so many members whose chances of getting picked are rare. It was a great event, but it's just sad that more people couldn't enjoy it." So how does she feel about the Harvicks' come one-come all policy? "To have something like this for his fans and to have it open to everybody is just incredible. Kevin's making himself accessible all day, and that's pretty special."

     The fans may be impressed that the Harvicks have set aside an entire day to spend with them, but Kevin and DeLana are equally impressed by the loyalty these fans have shown. "We know a lot of these people," says DeLana. "We see them year in and year out, whether it's at the races or here. We also keep up with them on our message board, so it's always a highlight to get to meet and see everybody." Kevin also has nothing but praise for the members of his fan club. "Fans make our sport go around, and I think the team owners, the drivers and the sponsors are all aware of that. That's why our fan club gathering is important to us. These are our core fans, and they're the ones we try to take care of the most."