Harvick a master of diversification

All Donald Cerrone, known as "Cowboy" in the Ultimate Fighting Championship world, wanted was a full-bodied Budweiser to replace the light beer he'd been given in the driver motor coach lot at Texas Motor Speedway.

In stepped -- who else? -- Kevin Harvick.

"He said, 'I can help you with that,'" Cerrone recalled of his first meeting with the Budweiser-sponsored Sprint Cup driver during a TapouT tour two years ago. "Next thing you know, he had me a whole case of Budweiser."

Cerrone didn't know much about NASCAR or Harvick at the time, but one thing led to another, as they talked over a cool one, and Harvick soon found himself in a business relationship with the sixth-ranked MMA fighter.

If you thought Kevin Harvick Inc. went away when Harvick shut the doors on his Nationwide and Truck series organizations after the 2011 season, think again.

It has been restructured into a sports marketing and management firm with Cerrone, professional golfer Jason Gore and Cup driver Jeff Burton already in the fold. Harvick hopes to one day bring in country music stars and other forms of entertainment.

So, while he's focused on winning a Cup title in his last season for Richard Childress Racing before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he's doing pretty well for himself as a businessman.

That brings us to Wednesday night's lightweight match between Cerrone and No. 10-ranked Rafael dos Anjos in Indianapolis (dos Anjos won by unanimous decision). The promotion KHI did around the event is like a coming-out party for the reinvented company.

Borrowing a line from Tom Cruise in the movie "Jerry Maguire," it's a very big night for "our little project, our company."

And Harvick will be right there in one of the first few rows supporting his client.

"KHI has always continued to exist," said Harvick, looking like anything but a businessman in short pants and a T-shirt as he relaxed in his motor coach during a recent race weekend.

"We just haven't said anything about it. Then, we realized with Donald when the release went out [on the fight] that we're actually doing all that stuff in marketing.

"We've realized we hit a niche that we enjoy."

The worlds of NASCAR and the UFC seems like a strange mix from the outside, but they really aren't. On many levels, a NASCAR driver is more prepared for the business world than an athlete in any other sport because so much of what they do involves corporate sponsorship and self-marketing.

Drivers spend as much or more time promoting current sponsors and recruiting potential sponsors as they do behind the wheel.

It didn't take long for Cerrone to pick up on that.

"I was really exhausted from all the management that was the MMA," he said. "They had a lot of people that shouldn't be doing it. NASCAR is very professional. They deal with good corporations, Fortune 500 companies.

"Every time I send them an email [about something], they're on it. It's handled. I thought, 'Why not? Let's shake it up a little bit.'"

Dana White, the president of UFC, is already impressed with what Harvick and KHI have done to promote one of its stars.

"Kevin is obviously a huge star in NASCAR, and it's great that he's interested in becoming more involved in mixed martial arts," White said of Harvick, who has been using martial arts training to improve his conditioning for racing.

"He's been successful off the track with his management business and his charity efforts, so I look forward to seeing him work closely with Donald Cerrone."

Others in the UFC world and other sports are paying attention. One of Cerrone's friends, who is big in professional wakeboarding, has made inquiries.

"I envision this as something we can build and grow and build a family of athletes, drivers, fighters, whatever the case may be," Harvick said. "But you don't want to overdo it to the point everyone is not getting the service they are signing up for."

Harvick brings the same intensity and desire to the business world that you saw when he confronted Denny Hamlin on pit road following a wreck Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"He wants to succeed, and he puts 100 percent into it," said Burton, Harvick's teammate at RCR. "He's very up front and very direct. He's a lot of who you see on the track.

"He's a smart guy who is trying to be diverse in the things he does."

For Harvick, it's all about personal relationships. It has been since he was thrust into the spotlight in 2001 as the replacement for Dale Earnhardt after the seven-time champion's death in the Daytona 500.

"I told people a long time ago if you have to go out and sell yourself with a résumé, then you're in trouble," Harvick said. "When you get that word of mouth going and people start talking about you, that's where you get the best deals."

Harvick's business savvy was one of many reasons Tony Stewart wanted his good friend with him at SHR.

"Tony balances a lot of things, and I've been in that boat and we've eliminated a lot of things," Harvick said. "It's going to allow me the time to help him really balance this part of his professional life and be able to make it better."

But Harvick's first goal is to win the championship, and he's in arguably the best position of his career -- fourth in points with two wins -- despite his lame-duck status at RCR.

Not being burdened by the pressures of KHI the race organization has helped. The long days, and sometimes sleepless nights, that went with that aren't there with KHI the management company.

As involved as Harvick is, he has surrounded himself with a strong team headed by Josh Jones, a sharp business person despite the irreverence Harvick sometimes directs at him on Twitter.

"It needed to change," Harvick said of KHI. "The team ownership side of it is so demanding on your time. You have to be 24/7 to be good at it. You've got to do your job on Sunday, you've got your family. There is just no way possible to do it good.

"I've always told these guys there's no reason to do two or three really good things and make it into four or five mediocre things. Then everything is suffering."

Now, KHI is prospering.

And it all began because Cerrone wanted a Budweiser.