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My Brickyard Moment: Kevin Harvick, 2003

Note: This is the final of a series of letters from NASCAR drivers recounting their Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records wins and other big moments to happen at the Brickyard. Read other installments of "My Brickyard Moment" here

Kevin Harvick stepped into the NASCAR Cup Series spotlight under extreme duress in spring 2001, after the death of Dale Earnhardt. Since accepting that challenge, Harvick has become one of the sport’s most popular and winning drivers, winning the Cup Series title in 2014 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 victories in 2003 and 2019. In his own words, Harvick shares memories of that win in 2003 while driving for Richard Childress Racing and what it meant considering he was raised in Bakersfield, California, home to four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears:

I’ll never forget that 2003 race. We were bunched up for a restart on Lap 145, and I’m pretty sure I was third in line behind Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. They bunched up there into Turn 1, and I got a great run and got by both of them for the lead. After I cleared them, we were able to just pull away from everybody.

For me, it was pretty cool leading at Indianapolis just for the fact that I grew up a huge Rick Mears fan. That’s what I wanted to race, Indy cars. So to go to the Brickyard, and be able to win the race, and be able to experience everything that comes with winning at the Brickyard is pretty cool.

It’s just one of those places where you just want to win. We were fortunate to be in position and win the race. So for me, it was extra special.

Before I go any further, let me tell you about Bakersfield. It’s just a well-supported racing town. They have a dirt track and asphalt track, and lots of people raced go-karts.

You see fan support there that you don’t find in the rest of the state, really. It's one of those things where everybody in the town is into racing, and they support all the racetracks. You get more support and you get more people involved, and the next thing you know, you have a lot more participants on the racetrack.

It’s a neat little racing town.

Obviously, everybody crossed paths as we were racing go-karts with Casey Mears (Rick’s nephew). We all kind of went different directions there as we turned 16 and 17 years old. They went with the open-wheel route, and we stayed with the stock car route.

I actually have a picture hanging in my office from the first year that Rick Mears sat on the pole at Indy. Anyway, the picture has a saying on it. It says, “Hope to see you here someday.” It is just pretty cool to see all that come full circle. That picture actually has hung in my office since I, well, I’ve had an office. So that’s where I wanted to be from the time I was a little kid.

I have a pretty good record at Indianapolis. It is a tough racetrack just because the track is so narrow, and so much of it depends on aerodynamics while you're in traffic and things like that. It’s one of my better racetracks in the Cup Series.

As we’ve gone through the years, it’s just one of those places that fits what we do and everybody always puts a little extra effort into that point of the season.

I have been very fortunate to win some of our sport’s biggest races, like the All-Star Challenge, the Budweiser Shootout and the Daytona 500. I think Indy and Daytona are the two biggest races that you can win on the schedule.

I always wanted to race at Indy, even when I was a little kid. As you grow up and you want to do something like that, when you actually get to accomplish it, you are almost in a little bit of shock.

When you get to experience those kinds of moments for real, they almost seem surreal. You learn through the years that you just want to take those moments in, remember and gather as much information from those particular moments as you can.

I don’t remember why, but my wife, DeLana, and I spent the night in our motor home inside the racetrack after I won that race. I don’t remember why we had to stay, but we stayed the night. When we woke up the next morning, we were the only people left in the infield.

We had our motor home down near Turns 3 and 4 in the grass. To wake up the next morning after winning the Brickyard and watch the sun coming up over the grandstands was pretty neat.

There was nobody else there. At that moment, I had the chance to reflect on the day before. It was something that was really cool. And just to kind of walk outside and just think about what you got to accomplish the afternoon before, it was probably the coolest thing for me, other than riding around the track for a victory lap.

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