Harvick reaching country’s youth with Kevin’s Krew

March 27, 2010

Group rewards high school kids for academics, essay

By Raygan Swan, NASCAR.COM

How do you keep sight of more than 50 revved up high school students on a field trip to a NASCAR race?

Dress them all in sunshine yellow Shell Oil Co. shirts and put Kevin Harvick in charge.

Well, maybe not in charge, but the driver of the No. 29 certainly can keep the kids' attention long enough to create an unforgettable moment. The at-track field trips are part of a growing program called Kevin's Krew -- outreach for at-risk students intended to expose them to the world of racing.

Harvick and crew will play host to special groups several times throughout the season, potentially reaching 700,000 students across various school districts nationwide.

His most recent trip was at Atlanta Motor Speedway where dozens of teenagers from Atlanta's Boys and Girls Club as well as two area high schools were shuttled in for the Kobalt Tools 500 and given VIP treatment. The next outing is at Dover International Speedway.

"We basically bring anywhere from 20 to 80 kids to the track and let them get away from their environment and put them in an environment that impresses them enough to go out and do things that are fun and to be in an environment that is safe and put a good influence on their lives," Harvick said.

Making a lasting impression is the main objective which Harvick must do in a short amount of time -- the trips are on the mornings of race day where drivers are already busy with meetings and media.

"We take a picture and sign everybody's hats and try to interact with each of them as much as you can in a 10-minute time frame," Harvick said. "But they like being around you, and it excites them and it makes you feel good because you are having a positive influence on the kids that are in that particular group."

And if he isn't making a difference, a day with local law enforcement might get the job done. It's a police officer from California, Todd Smith, who started the program in 2008 and coordinates with police agencies across the country to chaperone the student groups.

Smith, of Colton, Calif., initiated the program for students who otherwise would not have an opportunity to go to a NASCAR race. The idea for Kevin's Krew stems from Smith's first NASCAR experience.
"A good friend invited me to race in 2007. I didn't want to go but once I saw the cars I was hooked and had a favorite driver before the race was over," Smith said. "The next year I reached out to some teams and got in touch with Richard Childress Racing who put me in touch with Shell and Chevy. They loved the idea."

In its first year, Smith and his police department hosted five California students who were treated to a NASCAR experience made possible from contributions from different organizations. The five grew to more than 300 and has continued to gain momentum.

When Harvick and Shell became primary supporters in 2008, the name Kevin's Krew was adopted.

“I know what it's like to be disadvantaged. Taking these kids to NASCAR races and seeing their reactions is what keeps me going in the program.”-- TODD SMITH

Familiar with issues inner-city students can face, Smith said Kevin's Krew encourages working values, goal setting and appreciation.

"Having grown up in South Central L.A., I know what it's like to be disadvantaged," Smith said. "Taking these kids to NASCAR races and seeing their reactions is what keeps me going in the program. I've received tons of letters from kids, without prompting from their parents, thanking me for the trips."

Funding for the program -- tickets, travel and food -- comes from Harvick's Shell-Pennzoil sponsor who also outfits the students with T-shirts and lanyards on race day.

Selected based on academic achievement or essay writing abilities, the students make quite an impression walking around the track and inside the garage when all together.

Inside Atlanta Motor Speedway, the students seemed to be in awe of the sport's enormity and the chaotic bustle of pre-race activities. Most were not familiar with Harvick's career or the fact that he was the Cup Series points leader that weekend. They only knew he was someone important and wanted his autograph.

"None of our homies believed us when we told them we were coming here," said Stacy Finley, 17, a student of Washington High School in Atlanta. "I've never been to a NASCAR race, but there are a lot of nice people here and we are having a blast. NASCAR just got a new No. 1 fan."

Escorting the students that day was Henry County Deputy David Bishop.

"This is showing them different professions in motorsports they can get into, it teaches them about the sport but more importantly it lets them know that they are important people," Bishop said. "And we are going to do something special for them."

Congratulating a student on a winning essay pertaining to Shell Oil Co. and its environmental efforts, Harvick said: "It is so fun to see the smiles on the kids' faces and it just depends on what week or track you're at as to the magnitude of impressions you make on those kids."

Both Smith and Harvick, with the help of Shell, hope to continue expanding the program in the coming years.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.