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Richard Parks

Gone Racin’

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“Race Car Kenny” Howard
01-09-06

Story by Richard Parks Pictures by Roger Rohrdanz

  Donald Kenneth “Race Car Kenny” Howard passed away on December 15, 2005. Known by his family and friends as DK, Kenny, Howard and Race Car Kenny, this likable and friendly man participated in landspeed and drag car racing in the very early days of the sport. Born on April 7, 1922, in Santa Ana, California, Kenny was raised in Orange County and participated in the rapid growth of that rural and agricultural county. He joined several car clubs, including the Lancers, and joined the Navy during World War II. He was assigned to Los Alamitos Naval Station, then shipped to Pearl Harbor where he was a crane operator. From there he was sent by the Navy to the Philippines, and was at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where General MacArthur made his triumphal return to the Islands. The next landing was at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, where the Army was landed that would retake Manila from the Japanese Army, and free the prisoner of war camps. Many of his fellow dry lake landspeed friends were also in this conflict, including Fred Hadley and Wally Parks. After the war, Howard returned to Los Alamitos Naval Station to serve out his military service.

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Kenny Howard in front of a ’29 Ford Roadster Pickup

Howard began his dry lakes racing at El Mirage, just after the war, and a timing plaque dated 14 July 1948, shows the Guptill & Howard Class B Roadster #117B turning 125.00mph in the timed mile, a very fast speed at that time. Kenny teamed up with Doug Hartelt and Calvin Rice, and went drag racing in the early 1950’s at the famous Santa Ana Drags. Calvin would drive the car, Hartelt was the owner and Kenny was the mechanic. The Rice/Hartelt/Howard team would take many trophies and establish themselves as the pre-eminent early drag racing car, winning the first NHRA National Title in 1955. The race started at Great Bend, Kansas, but due to bad weather, was completed in early 1956 in Arizona.

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Kenny Howard on far right with neighborhood friends, circa 1940’s

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#2 Short track sprint car built in 1934. Driven by Rex Mays

 Kenny married his wife Lovada, and had two sons, Kenneth and Rodney, two grandchildren, Shellee and Shawn, and five great-grandchildren. His wife asked him to stop driving, and concentrate on building and restoring cars. Kenny met Bill Stroppe in the Navy, and would form a life-long friendship with this master car owner and mechanic. He crewed with Stroppe on road course and off road racing, with Parnelli Jones doing the driving.

Howard encouraged his grandson, Shawn, to get involved in motorsport racing. Shawn has his own team, Howard Motorsports, and races in the Porsche Club of America road racing circuit. Kenny was proud that Shawn won Rookie and Driver of the Year in his class. There are 12 events throughout the year at such tracks as Willow Springs, Laguna Seca, Sears Point, Las Vegas, Phoenix International and California Speedway. Kenny was an integral part of his grandson’s racing team. Kenny was also a car builder and restorer. In the 1970’s, doing what he loved to do, rummaging through garages, swap meets, wrecking yards and other out of the way places for treasures, he came across the Paul Fromm/Rex Mays #2 car. It would take him 7 years to complete the restoration of this famous car. Fromm had built this sprinter in 1934, for Mays to run on ˝ mile tracks. It raced the AAA West Coast Sprint Car circuit with Mays, Kelly Petullo, Al Cole and Ted Horn. Horn took the car back east and raced it extensively. The yellow sprint car with the Gilmore Lion painted in red was called the Fromm Special. Howard showed the car at the Gilmore Roars Reunion, which Carmen and Gordon Schroeder organized and ran for 30 years in the Los Angeles area. 

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Kenny Howard’s flathead (Navarro Heads) powered ’34 Ford 5 window coupe towing #2 Rex Mays Sprint car restored by Kenny Howard

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Flathead powered ’34 Ford 5 window coupe

Kenny was always heard to tell his family and crew, “don’t worry, worry kills you,” and that he loved “fast cars and fast women.” He wasn’t pretentious and his words were few, but he was a gracious host and supportive father, and in his Stetson ten gallon hat he looked a lot like John Wayne. Howard joined the Masons in the 1970’s and rose in the ranks. The Masons were there at his funeral to offer the last rites for Kenny, along with 50 of his closest friends and family members. This gentle man now joins his wife and many of his friends in landspeed, off-road and drag racing, who preceded him.

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