Travis Harvey is faster than you. Whether he’s driving a Super Comp dragster on a quarter-mile track or a full-bodied Big Dog car on an eighth-mile strip, the 26-year-old drag racer known as “The Carolina Kid” will get to the finish line ridiculously quick. Think 0 to 200-plus mph in 6 seconds.
“Travis is the baddest freakin’ driver in the Carolinas. He’s just too nice to say so,” Herb McCandless Jr., general manager of Piedmont Dragway in Julian, says when introducing Harvey.
The Kid spent a rainy morning talking about straight-line racing with the News & Record’s Jeff Mills amid the bustle at the Race Tech Race Cars and Components shop in Burlington.
Q. What the heck is Big Dog racing?
A. Big Dog is just the name. It’s like what they have at Piedmont on the first Thursday of every month. It’s pro modified cars that run (the eighth-mile) at around 4.2 seconds and about 180 mph. It’s a real fast car.
Q. They call you “The Carolina Kid.” Where did that nickname come from?
A. When I started out, I didn’t want them to put my name on the side of the car. Ever since I was little, I’ve been a (University of North) Carolina sports fan. My racing helmet is painted up like a Carolina football helmet. So they put “The Carolina Kid” on the side of the car, and it just kind of stuck.
Q. How and when did you get your start in drag racing, and who were your idols?
A. I’ve been around drag racing all my life because my dad (Gary Harvey), he raced, and my uncle, he raced. My dad was racing since before I was around. When he quit, I decided to get in the seat, and I never got out of it. My uncle and my dad raced, so I guess you could say racing was in my blood. … My dad is probably the one I looked up to the most. Famous drag racers — you always look at Don Garlits and John Force. Ronnie Sox was the man around here everyone looked up to.
Q. Do you remember your first drag race?
A. It was a long time ago, and I don’t remember my first drag race. But I do remember my first time going down the race track. It was amazing. I was 14, and my dad was racing that day. I asked him if I could drive (his 1967 Camaro drag car). … I just made one run. I did the burnout, and everything went fine. I staged up and launched the car. It was just a crazy feeling I’d never felt before. I lifted out of it, and got back in the throttle and on-and-off with the gas. It was kind of scary, that first feeling, but I got used to it, and it’s fun. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it.
Q. Away from the track, what do you drive in everyday life and what kind of driver are you?
A. I work for my parents’ business, doing ceramic tile and brick, so I drive a truck. I have a Camaro street car, but I never drive it. Most of the time when you see me, I’m in a Ford F-350 dualie driving around. I have road rage bad. If there’s somebody in front of me driving slow, I’ve got to get around them. They’ve got to get out of the way. I can’t stand it.
Q. This part of the country is known for NASCAR. Does it ever bother you that stock-car racing gets so much more attention than drag racing?
A. I just wish we could get the big sponsors like them guys get. They’re the top of the league right now, so you have to respect that. I don’t know if drag racing will ever get to be as big as
NASCAR. I watch it some, but I’m not really a fan. I don’t like driving in circles. That’s kind of boring to me. But the
NASCAR guys would say the same thing about us drag racers, “one time down the race track and you’re done.” … Take a look at the professionals at the highest levels, though. A Top Fuel (dragster) has got 8,000 horsepower compared to 800 horsepower for a (Sprint Cup car).
Q. How expensive is this sport?
A. It can be very, very expensive. We just sold a Big Dog car, the car we’d been driving. They came to pick it up this week. A new car, just a chassis like the Big Dog stuff we run … is between $75,000 and $100,000. Then you’ve got to buy a motor for about $65,000. Transmission is another 10 grand. When you’re all done building, you’ll have about $200,000 in the car. And that’s for Sportsman-type guys, not a professional Top Fuel car. … You don’t have to spend that much. One of the things I like about drag racing is anybody can get into it and can start out winning bracket races in a slow car. … But when you get into heads-up racing, whoever gets there first, you’ve got to have good sponsors and top-notch equipment to compete.
Q. Every once in a while you see a story about street racing. How dangerous is that compared to what happens at the track?
A. I was looking at something on TV the other night about street racing, and looking at that stuff, you realize it’s very dangerous. … I don’t think they should be doing that. You’re endangering other people’s lives. … A lot of people do it. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve done it before. It’s very dangerous, a lot scarier than drag racing at the track. You’re in between two walls at the drag strip, but anything could come out in front of you if you’re street racing.
Q. Even at the track, there’s a very real element of danger in your sport. Funny Car driver Eric Medlen was killed last year, and former champion Scott Kalitta was killed this summer. How do you cope with the danger?
A. You think about it every time you get on the race track, but I just feel like they build a great car here at Race Tech and if something happened I’d make it through the crash. The safety equipment and the stuff we wear now makes it pretty safe. I feel like I’m just as safe in the race car — maybe safer — than I am in my truck going down the highway. You always think about it, but I feel like I’ll make it through it. You never know for sure, but I’m not going to quit because somebody else crashed. My mom, she hates it because of the danger. But I can’t stop.
Q. Have you ever been really scared in the car before?
A. I’ve never really had a crash, but I’ve hit the wall before and scraped the car up. It actually didn’t scare me because it happened so fast. After it happens, that’s when you get scared. You start thinking, “Dang, I could’ve hurt myself.” Then getting back in the car the first time after it, you think about “Will it happen again?” That’s the only thing. Once you’re going down the track again, though, you really don’t have much time to think about being scared. And if you are thinking about that, that’s when something might happen because you’re not focused on what you need to be thinking about.