From 1988 through 2000, Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina hosted the NASCAR Xfinity Series, or as it was called back then, the NASCAR Busch Series.
On one particular evening 20 years ago, the .538-mile oval just off U.S. Route 501 served as a unique junction in the careers of Kevin Harvick, Rodney Childers and Tim Fedewa.
Harvick is the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing. Childers is Harvick’s crew chief, and the duo currently own the longest-tenured driver/crew chief relationship in the NASCAR garage. Fedewa is Harvick’s spotter. All three have been together since the inception of the No. 4 team in 2014 – a year where each ended the season with a championship ring on their finger.
But on June 17, 2000 – the last Xfinity Series race to be held at Myrtle Beach Speedway – Harvick, Childers and Fedewa were all just trying to make it as drivers in the stepping-stone division to the elite NASCAR Cup Series.
Jeff Green won the race by 1.029 seconds over a 25-year-old Harvick who was making just his 16th career Xfinity Series start for Richard Childress Racing. It was Harvick’s best career Xfinity Series result, as the first of his 47 Xfinity Series wins was still more than a month away.
Making his 214th career Xfinity Series start was Fedewa. Driving for Cicci-Welliver Racing, Fedewa qualified 11th and finished 38th after being involved in an accident on lap 198.
The Myrtle Beach 250 was Childers’ first and only Xfinity Series start, and it came with Jay Robinson Racing. Childers qualified 33rd and completed just 69 laps before an accident left him 43rd.
The levels of recollection vary. Harvick remembers that Green won. Fedewa had to visit YouTube to watch the TNN broadcast. Childers, however, said, “I remember everything about it.”
With the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge slated for 7 p.m. EDT on Wednesday on NBCSN, where Myrtle Beach Speedway takes center stage once again, it’s appropriate that we look back on the one and only race where Harvick, Fedewa and Childers all competed as drivers.
“I was racing late models for a guy who owned a grocery business – Jay Robinson,” Childers said. “I started driving for him that year and we were racing in what is now called the CARS tour. We went to the first six races and won all of them.”
Childers and Robinson were told very politely that no one wanted to see the same car win every week, and would they possibly consider leaving the series. Robinson immediately set his sights on the Busch Series and headed to an auction to purchase a car. They put together the car, but the team consisted of only three people. Every time Childers would practice, he had to get out of the car and be hands-on with the adjustments, losing valuable track time.
“We went out for qualifying and there were like 57 cars there for the race,” Childers said. “Everybody had been picking up on their second lap, so I was going to take it easy on my first lap and get after it on my second lap. Well, my first lap, I was actually quick enough for 30th out of 57. My second lap, I buried it in the corner and got loose. Threw the lap away.”
Besides the lack of a full crew, Childers found the car to be lacking too.
“About lap 10, I found out I didn’t have any brakes,” Childers said. “But we were just riding around there and Randy LaJoie and Jeff Purvis got together in turn one. Everyone was checking up and Blaise Alexander was in front of me and he turned down into my right front because someone turned into him. I jerked the wheel to the left, but got hit and the next thing I knew I was nosed into the inside wall in turn one.”
Turns out, the steering box wasn’t quite up to snuff, but Childers looks at the bright side.
“To be able to make the race with that many cars was actually a huge accomplishment,” Childers said. “There were a lot of people back then that were missing Busch races.”
“You forget the level of competition,” Fedewa said. “I ran between 13th and 10th and I can’t believe how hard it was to even get to 10th."
Fedewa won four Xfinity Series races in his career and scored his final victory on May 13, 2000 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“You probably had 45 good teams that were just racing in the Busch Series,” Fedewa said. “Maybe they didn’t run all of them, but they ran most of them. The short tracks, it was doable for a late model team to buy a car and compete. Because we didn’t have wind tunnel time, a short track team could buy a car or build a car, go to Myrtle Beach and make the show.”
“I remember a few things about that race,” Harvick said. “Myrtle Beach is a high tire-wear racetrack and I hadn’t ever raced there before like a lot of guys had from the East Coast. Going there for the first time, I didn’t have the right concept of what I was supposed to be doing with saving tires and stuff like that. I was hammer down all the time.”
Green, who won six races that year on his way to the championship, denied Harvick the victory.
“I lost to Jeff Green and the only other thing I remember is that I jacked him up at one point just trying the mess with him because that’s just what we did back in those days,” Harvick said. “Jeff and I went back and forth during the 2000 and 2001 time period. He was sort of the guy at that point, and I wanted to be the guy. I thought running into him was the best way to get the most attention. Obviously, in the today’s world, you realize that beating him would’ve been much better.”
Green was asked about his run-in with Harvick in victory lane and said simply, “He’s a rookie and he’s learning too. But I did the same thing back when I was a rookie, too.”
In his first full season in the Xfinity Series, Harvick scored three wins and finished third in the championship while claiming rookie-of-the-year honors. Along the way, he gained a reputation for being aggressive on the track, but off the track, his affable attitude and ever-present smile earned him the nickname “Happy.”
Harvick was set to compete full-time in the Xfinity Series in 2001 while making select NASCAR Cup Series starts for Childress’ No. 30 team. But his career path was forever altered on Feb. 18, 2001, when Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt lost his life in an accident on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Days following the tragedy, Childress appointed Harvick to drive in place of Earnhardt, renumbering the famous No. 3 machine to No. 29 in time for the second race of the season at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. This new role was in addition to Harvick’s duties in the Xfinity Series, where he was competing for the championship.
Harvick proved he was up to the daunting task of following a legend when, in only his third NASCAR Cup Series start, he scored the victory March 11 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As the season continued, so did Harvick’s winning ways as he claimed the checkered flag in the inaugural race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. He secured the rookie-of-the-year title en route to a ninth-place finish in the season-ending championship.
Ironically, the driver who took over the No. 30 car for Harvick was none other than Green, who competed in eight races in 2001 and ran the full Cup season in 2002 and a partial schedule in 2003.
Harvick moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and now has 49 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, which puts him in a tie with his boss, Tony Stewart, for 14th on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series win list. Harvick’s next win will tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.
Childers tried out for various rides and sought opportunities that would keep him behind the wheel, but nothing materialized. In 2003, he made the difficult decision to hang up his helmet, but he wasn’t going to hang up on his dream of working in racing. Instead, Childers altered his dream. He was just as talented working underneath the hood as he was behind the wheel, so he turned his focus to working on racecars.
His road to Stewart-Haas Racing is as follows: mechanic on the No. 77 car for Jasper-Penske Racing in 2003 with driver Dave Blaney and then car chief in 2004 for driver Brendan Gaughan; in June 2005, became crew chief for Scott Riggs at MB2/MBV Motorsports; transitioned to Gillett-Evernham Motorsports from 2006-2008, serving in the same role, but taking over crew chief duties for driver Elliott Sadler in 2008; joined Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) in 2009 to serve as crew chief of the No. 00 team and driver David Reutimann, scoring his first win as a crew chief in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway; after three years with Reutimann, which included a second win in 2010 at Chicagoland, Childers moved within MWR to the No. 55 team, where in 2012 and 2013 he was the crew chief for Waltrip, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers, guiding Vickers to the win in July 2013 at New Hampshire before departing a month later for SHR.
“Every win is special, especially your first,” Childers said. “I think when we won Charlotte – our first win at MWR – it was a rained-out race so it wasn’t really a win. It was a win to our company, but it wasn’t a win to everyone else in the garage. When we came back the next year and won Chicago and led a lot of laps and had the best car, that was probably the one that felt the best. That was almost more like the first win.
“But, to me, the greatest career achievement wasn’t a win. It was just becoming a crew chief. If there were two things I wanted to do in life, it was to either be a driver or a crew chief, and I was able to become a crew chief. To me, that’s the biggest achievement – just getting to this level and being competitive.”
Fedewa, meanwhile, drove some more Xfinity Series races and a handful of races in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series before retiring as a driver in 2006. He took his experience as a driver to the spotter’s stand and has been a mainstay at the top of grandstands for more than a decade.
Racing is a small world, so it’s not surprising that Harvick, Childers and Fedewa all ended up working together. But, looking back, the 2000 Myrtle Beach 250 did prove subtly prophetic.
When Childers crashed out of the race, he tangled with Purvis, who was driving the No. 4 car, a number Harvick has since made synonymous with him, Childers and Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It was a sign of things to come,” said Harvick, laughing. “He should’ve paid more attention. Somebody was trying to tell him something.”
Taking the twist a step further, Purvis was hit by LaJoie, and LaJoie’s public relations representative was DeLana Linville, who became DeLana Harvick on Feb. 28, 2001 when the two were married.
Did Harvick, Childers and Fedewa Know Each Other When They All Raced at Myrtle Beach?
Did these three people, whose lives are now so intertwined, know each other when they all donned helmets and strapped into their respective racecars that June evening in Myrtle Beach? The answers vary.
“I did not know anything about Rodney Childers at that particular time,” Harvick said.
“I knew of Rodney, but I didn’t know him,” Fedewa said. “But I remember talking with him at Myrtle Beach that weekend. I think that was the first time I ever talked with him.”
“I knew who they were,” Childers said. “About that time, Kevin was going to be moving up to run some Cup races and they needed somebody to run the races he couldn’t run, and I was actually trying to talk to them about running those races.”
“Timmy was one Randy LaJoie’s best friends,” DeLana Harvick said. “So, I knew Timmy really well. I have no recollection of Rodney. I remember the name, but I don’t remember him driving at all.”
In late 2013, Childers left MWR to form the No. 4 team at Stewart-Haas Racing. One championship and 26 point-paying victories later, who could have dreamed back in June 2000 that these three would be this successful?
“At that point in life, you think you’re going to race forever, especially for me,” Harvick said. “At that point, I think I was 25 and didn’t really give a crap about anybody else because you’re so narrow minded about how things worked. I’d had a little bit of success and wanted to shove it in everybody’s face at that particular point, which wasn’t exactly the best way to go about it.
“I think you look at it now, it’s pretty unique that you have three guys who were on a similar path. That’s one thing that makes our team so unique is that you have so many similarities in things that we’ve done, things that we’ve been though, places we’ve been, things that we’ve raced, and we’re similar in age. I think that’s why everyone gets along so well.”
Fedewa and Childers agree.
“Racing is smaller than you think,” Fedewa said. “At this point in my life, would I still like to be driving? Of course. But as you move on, you morph into something different. Rodney was a driver back then, well before he became a crew chief. I guess the biggest thing for me is, I’m still glad to be in the sport and lucky to be with the guys I’m with.”
Childers thought he would win several races and a championship – just as a driver, not a crew chief.
“Things started to spin a different way a year or two after that race at Myrtle Beach,” Childers said. “I started doing it as a crew chief. It was tough, though, because you’re basically hanging up something that you always dreamed of.”
Could Childers have been a good driver? Harvick references a line from veteran racer Ken Schrader.
“I’ll go back to one of Ken Schrader’s lines, ‘There are a whole lot more good racecar drivers than there are good racecars.’ As you look at Rodney, he did all the things that I did in my career until we got up into the Truck Series. He just never had the opportunities that played out for him to run full seasons and multiple races. I feel like, for sure, he could’ve done it.”
What Childers has done is assemble one of the most dominant teams of the past six years.
“Rodney is a very detail-oriented person,” Harvick said. “He’s not going to accept anything less from anybody working on the car. If he tells you to polish five lugnuts and you only polish four, he’s going to tell you to polish all five so they look the same. And he thinks about racing all the time.”
Harvick says Fedewa shares the same mindset.
“Timmy’s a simple person who has driven in the past. When you have a spotter and a crew chief who actually drove before, you think about everything from a driver’s point of view all the time, and that helps.”
The Fedewa/Harvick Pairing
“I was spotting for Marco Ambrose and he was getting ready to leave,” Fedewa said. “So, I thought I should see what’s out there. I put my name in the hat at Stewart-Haas Racing and told them I was interested. I think Kevin got some audio from Racing Electronics of me at previous races where I had spotted, and Kevin listened to it. I guess he heard and said, ‘Who’s this?’ They told him it was me and they got in contact with me. That’s the story I heard, anyway.”
Turns out, Fedewa got a little help from DeLana Harvick.
“I remember Kevin and I were sitting there listening to maybe six spotters’ audio recordings,” DeLana said. “When he brought up Timmy, I just remember how calm he was – which is completely different from LaJoie, which is strange that they are such good friends. I remember when it came time for Kevin to have to pick, I threw in a vote for Timmy. I felt like a former driver would be good, and it was the same feeling I had when I found out Rodney used to drive.”
A trip to the beach 20 years proved to be the beginning of a dynastic trio of talent, and it’s perhaps best surmised by DeLana who said simply: “It’s pretty ironic to think how it’s all come to pass and how it all happened.”