Ricky Howerton does very well at his day job working for the very successful family business called Howerton Motorsports located on Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis.
The company builds exhaust systems, primarily for Indy Cars, but also for everything on racing on four wheels from NASCAR, to NHRA, to Formula 1. But Ricky loves machines that are on two wheels and go fast on dirt. He got the bug as a kid watching Honda Factory team riders like Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham burn up flat tracks like the legendary Indy Mile. So, in his ďspareĒ time, he decided to design a dream bike that would dominate the dirt milesÖand build it from the ground up.
Bryan Smith broke through years of Harley-Davidson domination to win the last edition of The Lucas Oil Indy Mile AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National in 2010 on a Kawasaki-powered bike tuned by the legendary Bill Werner. When the race returns after to the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, August 18, 2012, Bryan will attempt to defend his title again on a bike with Kawasaki power, but this time on the radically designed bike hand-built by Ricky Howerton and tuned by successful veteran mechanic Skip Eaken.
Howerton says, ďBasically, I wanted to build a street bike that was a worthy dirt track bike. I had stayed in contact with Skip Eaken a bit over the past 30 years since I was a teenager. He asked me what engine I wanted to put in it; and I liked the Kawasaki parallel twin a lot. Itís a really nice engine. Itís real compact. Being a parallel twin, the package is really nice. It lends itself to a lot of freedom in your design work in the rear suspension. At that time he was really interested in that engine as well. He knew that Bryan had won two races with Bill Werner on the Springfield and Indy Mile. He asked if I was interested in building another motorcycle. At the time I was going to build just one. Originally, I thought no; why would I want to do that. I was in the design phase at that time, doing all the computer modeling. The more I talked to Skip, and then my dad convinced me to go ahead and build a second one and let Skip race it.
Bryan Smith went to Howerton and expressed an interest in running the bike on the mile tracks this year. Ricky says; ďThat was a big deal to have a kid like that want to run for pretty much a no-name like myself in that series at that level. I got my other bike back from Skip, and put a couple more engines together and then really fined tuned those thingsóreally massaged them and got them ready to run on the track. We took something you could run on the street and got them to where you could change parts on them quicker on the race track and have spares, etc. That all happened in February of this year, before the dealer show. I call them the number 1 and number 2 bikes, but they are so similar, but I had to use decals so we can identify them. The number 2 bike is actually the street bike I rode around on for two weeks before this deal happened. The 1 bike actually has a VIN number, so I guess you could actually ride it to the Indy Mile. If you know what nice is; well then itís pretty obvious that itís really nice. Itís more like a two-wheeled Indy Car.Ē
And the bike has been fastóvery fast. In Bryanís first outing at the Springfield Mile, he had a great showing and was a threat to win. At Sacramento, Bryan had a dominating day, winning on just his second go-round on the new bike. Howerton says that the team has big ambitions going into Indy. He notes that the shape of the tracks at Indy and Sacramento are similar. But what gives the team the biggest edge? Howerton says, ďFirst and foremost itís the guy sitting on the seat. Thatís one of the reasons Iíve always liked motorcycle racing. I make my living in car forms of racing. Obviously, thereís more money in that. But itís the human element in motorcycle racing at whatever level whether itís Moto GP or Motocross thatís the most important thing. Other than that, I think Kawasaki on the engine side of it shows huge potential. That thing makes great power. Iíd have to say that the engine on that thing on the miles is just a horse. But the rear tires on the motorcycles across the board are like a restrictor plate. There are a lot of engines out there that make a lot of power. The KTMóthat big engine makes a lot of power. The Wood Brothers Ducati makes great power. I think building your power profile and getting the power to the ground is the biggest thing. Thatís where Skip Eaken, with his history of building Harley engines for decades and him being a part of the Honda factory teamÖhe just has so much knowledge of what to do and what not to do. Heís not a guy whoís a dyno racer who looks for the most peak power. He knows that on dirt tracks itís hard to get enough grip. He just does a great job with the engines.Ē
The #42 team will be sponsored by Crosley Radio of Louisville, KY. Bo LeMastus is the CEO and owner of the company. LeMastus says, ďWe do everything from turntables, jukeboxes, various radios, to telephones. Everything looks like it came from back in the day; be it the Ď30ís, 40ís, 50ís etc. But, obviously everything is state of the art. I was a competitive motorcycle racer as an amateur. Thatís how I met Ricky. Iíve been involved in motorcycle racing since the late Ď70ís. It was a natural marriage when Ricky got involved in flat track that Crosley would be a perfect sponsor. Flat track racing is so grassroots. To me it takes you back to the Ď30ís and Ď40ís and that was the earliest form of bike racing, really. It felt like a nice natural tie-in for us. For the coming Indy Mile, from our company here, we will probably bring up a good 50 to 75 of our teammates and their families. So itís been a neat connection for us to really get our staff involved. I love anything with two wheels. And to be able to partner up and do something with Rick Howerton was just a dream. He is so talented.Ē
After seeing the huge reaction to the new bike in person at Sacramento, LeMastus is excited about seeing what Bryan can accomplish. He says, ďItís going to be a big night. Thatís for sure.Ē
Why would Ricky Howerton build his labor of love? He says, ďI think to tie in what Iíve learned throughout my life and to go to the track and to kind of re-live what I used to watch through Bubba and Ricky back in the dayÖ Iíve got about 3,000 hours now in building the two motorcycles to really get them ready for Springfield this year, and other than a few times when Iíve gotten tired from working 18 hour days or something; itís been fun the whole time. I think thatís important for me because itís nothing weíre making money on. Itís a big personal deal, and Iíve had fun the whole time Iíve been doing it.Ē
The Lucas Oil Indy Mile returns as a featured event of the Indiana State Fair, and again coincides with the Red Bull Indianapolis GP weekend. Activities will be begin with gates opening at 2:00pm, timed-qualifying from 3:00pm-5:00pm, opening ceremonies 7:00pm with the first race at 7:30pm.