Monday, December 23, 2013

Howerton’s Handy Work 
A proven piece  

Circa 1984 Indianapolis, the factory Honda dirt track team was based two buildings down from Jack Howerton, Rick’s father's fabrication business, who was the to go guy for fabricated parts on Indy cars, an absolute perfectionist who wouldn’t let anything leave the shop without being to the nth-degree. Naturally, team Honda was at the shop on a weekly basis getting parts built, and as a young kid, Rick bugged anybody who’d listen. Gene Romero, was the Honda Dirt Track team manager, Skip Eaken and Sparky Edmondson were the chief's on Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham's RS750 Grand National motorbikes and  through his dad’s shop, Rick got to know them well.

“I was 14 at that time and Bubba and Ricky seemed like old men---funny how when you’re younger everyone seems old---however, they were only 8 or so years older than I was.  As time passed they let me golf and travel to the races with them in their motor-homes.”

Rick grew up then spent the a few years at engineering school, raced sprint cars, and eventually took over his father’s business. The business role changed from general fabrication shop to specialized exhaust manufacturer. Form midgets, Daytona prototypes, NHRA, Indy cars, NASCAR, to Formula One. The majority of which are built from inconel (hi nickel alloy) that was developed for jet airplane engine parts.
In 2010, Howerton saw a picture of Bryan Smith racing a Kawasaki tracker.
Cernicky testing a heavily modified Kawasaki 650 Ninja at
Yapavia Downs in AZ, in 2010.

He’d always liked the vertical-Twin engine configuration and wanted to use that for his "street tracker". Growing up around dirt track racing influences it had become a big passion in my life, and it never left, professed Rick Howerton; who would make sure to stay in contact with Sparky Anderson and Skip Eaken---who passed on in 2012---every couple of years, long after Honda’s dirt track program has been disbanded in 1988.
 When the eBay Ninja engine arrived, Howerton got Eaken to build him a race engine. Skip told Rick he felt that 650 Ninja had great potential, even at the Grand National level to power a race bike and wanted to put one together. Howerton hung up the phone thinking about how time consuming one bike would be to build. A few days contemplation in Rick, told his dad what he was up to and Sr. said “Build two and let Skip race one.”
Rick started thinking about the chassis---time consuming? Very!  A new motorcycle design, a modern day chassis made with the best materials possible, packaged small, light, and nimble. Perimeter frame hammered from heat treated sheet aluminum into box-tube swing-arm to actuate a double-pull-rod-rocker-rear suspension system with the right geometry with a hint of old-school look via pullback bars and the seat and side plates. The next few weeks Howerton computer modeled a motorcycle, calling Skip time-and-time again for dimensions; wheelbase, seat-height, head-tube angles, and offset. Eaken helped Howerton so much Rick started to warm up to the idea of making two bikes.

Fast forward to April 2011; 500 hours of co
mputer modeling, 1,200 hours of, machining, fixturing and fabricating, and the motorbikes were complete. Skip used 2011 to test riders, venues, learning what the bike needed in the throws of war, by cause and effect making changes experimented to both chassis and engines. Our combination was coming around at times, arguably the fastest bike on the track.
Push fast forwarding again; they came back with backing from Crosley Radio a seasoned machine and two-time GNC champion Bryan Smith. A 2nd at the final in Pomona LA Fairplex 2nd gave them a 2nd over all in the Expert Twins championship of 2013 behind Brad Baker.
Bryan Smith won Sacramento two years in succession Howerton Motorsports Kawasaki Got some Eaken aid and results came Bryan Smith; also won Indy and Springfield Miles that year
with the same engine
Now Rick Howerton gets his proven “street tracker” back that should make for a seriously fun ride around town. And his kids get more of their dad's time.