Kevin Harvick grew up a big fan of four-time Indianapolis 500-Mile Race winner Rick Mears.
They are both from Bakersfield, California and found massive success in their racing careers.
But they both started out racing as unknowns on now-closed racetracks.
Mears got his start in 1976 in the United States Auto Club IndyCar series driving for Bill Simpson in the No. 38 Do-It Wax System Eagle Offenhauser at Ontario Motor Speedway just outside of Los Angeles. He started 20th and finished eighth, completing 192 of 200 laps. He earned $6,886 that day, and who would have known that just three years later he would score his first of four Indianapolis 500 wins driving for Roger Penske.
Harvick got his NASCAR start in October 1995 at Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He drove the No. 72 Hall Ambulance Chevrolet and started and finished 27th, completing 176 of 200 laps. Who would have known that in just six years he would take over for the late Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing and win in just his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Mears earned three Championship Auto Racing Teams titles, four Indy 500 wins and 29 total Indy car victories. Harvick has one NASCAR Cup Series title, two NASCAR Xfinity Series titles and is one of just four drivers to win the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. He’s won 45 Cup Series races.
Ontario was closed after the 1980 season and the land is part of a shopping mall. Mesa Marin closed in the fall of 2005 and Harvick competed in one of the final races there. It is now part of the Bakersfield Park District.
While Mears never raced at this weekend’s stop on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which was built in 1997 – Harvick has had plenty of success at his latest “home track.” He made his first of four Truck Series starts at Fontana in October 1997. His best Truck Series finish of eighth came in 2007.
In 1998, Harvick drove the No. 75 Spears Motorsports car in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, when he finished second in May and won the pole and the race in July. Harvick also won the International Race of Champions race at the 2-mile oval in April 2002.
Harvick has made 19 starts in the Xfinity Series at Fontana. In 2015, he started sixth, led 100 laps and crossed the finish line 3.317 seconds ahead of runner-up Brendan Gaughan. Harvick has one win, one pole, 12 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will mark Harvick’s 26th career NASCAR Cup start at Fontana and he has one win, six top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. The 43-year-old driver has led 237 laps, has an average starting position of 15.3, an average finish of 15.8, and has completed 98.6 percent – 5,674 of 5,756 – of the laps he’s contested there.
Harvick is hoping he can be Freaky Fast at the 2-mile oval and score his second career Cup Series win there.