HEROES: KENT HOWERTON
I always hated the Dallas Cowboys. I was born in San Jose, CA, so of course I was a 49er fan. I was a 49er fan way before they were any good. Which was a LONG time. Before Montana came along it was a long string of failures, with just enough decent years to build up your hopes. But once they started winning I really hated Dallas. And, of course, Cowboy fans hated the 49ers. It was expected. Hard to blame them, for all the years they had to suffer at the hands of Rice, Lott, and Joe Cool.
These same type of loyalties also exist in the motocross world, either in the form of favorite riders or beloved bike brands. Sometimes, well many times, it is as simple as a favorite color. Red, Yellow, Green, Orange, or Blue. Take your pick. For me, it all started with Roger Decoster and Joel Robert. Then there was Heikki Mikkola and Gerrit Wolsink, aka the “Flying Dentist”. This was before American racers were able to compete at that level. In the late 60’s and early 70’s you admired and cheered for Americans, but you worshipped at the shrine of the Europeans. They were Gods whose every move was followed in the pages of Motocross Action Magazine.
So I was naturally disposed to be a Husqvarna and Suzuki fan based upon the brands raced by my heroes. My first mx bike was a Suzuki TM125 and I had a couple Husqvarnas also. Once the American racers finally caught up to the Europeans, towards the end of Decoster’s career, these loyalties continued. One of my favorite American motocross heroes from this period was Kent Howerton. Kent rode both Husqvarna and Suzuki to 500cc and 250cc championships. He was one of a group of legendary riders out of Texas which included Wyman Priddy, Steve Stackable, and Steve Wise.
Something about Howerton always stood out to me. He always seemed to be smiling in photos. He had tremendous style. One of my favorite photographs of all time is one I took of him wheelieing his Husky up a steep hill at Sears Point. You can see this photo at the top of the page. He had the nickname “The Rhinestone Cowboy”, because he liked flashy tennis shoes. I always thought it was a mismatched nickname, as he was humble and unpretentious and tough as nails. When other guys were melting in the intense summer heat he just kept going. And he was fast, really fast.
A fifteen year career in professional motocross is a long one. Most careers are a small fraction of that. In all Kent won 32 career AMA nationals and when he retired in the mid-1980s, he was second on the all-time AMA 250cc Motocross win list. In addition, he was the 1980 AMA Pro Athlete of the Year; a two-time winner of the 250cc United States Grand Prix; a two-time member of the American Motocross des Nations team and twice winner of the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers competition.
When I was a 17 year-old kid I took a photo of Kent at Hangtown. The year was 1976. That photo was published in Motocross Action Magazine! Pretty much the highlight of my entire high school experience. All those hours in the darkroom at Vaca High were mostly devoted to motocross photos, regardless of Mr. Swinerton’s assignments. That photo is the black and white photo above.
Kent Howerton always did things the right way and raced with fierce determination, but with class as well. He will always be remembered by me as one of my favorite racers ever. If I were to have a beer with any two racers from that time period it would be Howerton and Distefano. Don’t ask me why. Just something about people like that, people whose character is revealed by adversity. And is proven to be worthy of admiration.