Racing royalty and fans react to death of Smash Mouth singer
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The recent death of Steve Harwell robbed rock and roll of one of its most recognizable voices and cost auto racing a high-profile fan.
Harwell was the longtime lead singer of Smash Mouth. The band started in the mid-1990s in San Jose, California. In the years that followed, the band frequently showed a love of the speed, sights, and sounds of racing.
The video for Smash Mouth’s first big hit, 1997’s “Walkin’ on the Sun,” featured scenes of Harwell in an ill-fated hot rod street race.
Another early example, in an X post from a fellow racing fan, predates the band’s superstardom:
Harwell indeed managed to connect with racing’s most famed names. An early profile of the band in SFGATE says Harwell “lives in the fast lane, counting among his close friends the royalty of auto racing — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Al Unser Jr.”
Unser, the two-time Indy 500 winner, confirmed the connection in his own X post, soon after Harwell’s death:
In 2000, Smash Mouth played shows at two IndyCar ovals: Las Vegas in April and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. The band headlined one of the first Carburetion Day (now Carb Day) concerts, propelled by its biggest and most enduring hit: “All Star”.
Early during his band’s success, Harwell also helped start a racing-themed clothing line called “Team Nasty.”
2003 saw the band’s racing links cross over into film and video games, with the song “Hot.” It was on the soundtrack for both the “Hot Wheels Highway 35: World Race” animated movie and accompanying video game. The lyrics are drawn straight out of racing:
“You got skills and somethin’ to prove
But you’re in my way so you better move
One foot on the pedal but never on the brake
So don’t give me a reason I got a license to race.”
In 2012, the band played a concert at the Milwaukee Mile in support of an IndyCar race. In a comment to the series, Harwell said, “When we play, it’s a nonstop party. I can’t imagine anything better than playing at a festival that includes IndyCars and a Milwaukee-style party. We’re big race fans, and that just adds to our excitement for the event.”
2017 saw Smash Mouth entertain NASCAR fans with a show at Kansas Speedway ahead of one of the series’ playoff races.
A final fan photo and farewell comes from a racing family that met Harwell at California’s Auto Club Speedway:
Harwell stepped away from Smash Mouth in 2021, after an erratic and troubling performance that drew widespread criticism. The band later said his behavior was directly linked to serious and long-term health problems. It’s widely reported that he struggled with alcoholism and its health effects.
Harwell was 56 years old. His representative writes in a statement that he died “peacefully and comfortably” Monday surrounded by family and friends.