Kent Howerton won 3 AMA National titles and sits fourth on the all-time motocross win list. But that record of 18 wins is in jeopardy right now from James Stewart, who was leading moto one at last weekend’s Colorado national and looked to have a strong shot at surpassing Howerton, until an early moto crash took Stewart out of racing for the weekend… and maybe longer. I thought that might make for an interesting question for Howerton – how front-and-center are these records in the minds of past champions? I met up with Kent at Cycle Ranch MX just outside of San Antonio, Texas, near Kent’s home. At 57 years old, Kent motos every weekend and as much as he’ll tell you he’s lost a lot of his speed, he still makes everything look easy.
Story and Photos by Pete Peterson of Motocross.com
Howerton and is son try to ride at least once a week on any given weekend, even at 57, Kent goes pretty good.
His perspective on racing is interesting to read in light of the Dungey/Stewart rivalry and their apparently different strategies that is keeping fans on their feet this season, and Howerton’s perspective and relationship to riding and racing is interesting in that he’s sure honest about the downsides as much as he’s clear on the upsides.
Pete Peterson: Did you watch the race last weekend where James Stewart could have beaten your record?
Kent Howerton: Yes I did.
Were you aware that you were tied in the record books with him while you were watching that race?
No I wasn’t, not until you told me today.
What do those records mean to you nowadays?
To be honest I don’t really think about it very much. I think it’s kind of neat, but day to day I just don’t think about stuff like that.
How about at the time? Was that type of thing important to you, maybe to psyche out your opponents?
No, not really. For me to want to win a race was my primary thing. To win [my] first national was one of the hardest things to do, and that was important to me. And then also to win the championship, once I’d done that then I kind of relaxed and then just had to kind of find new reasons why I wanted to win. I looked around and saw how much effort everybody [on my team] put into it, so it made it as exciting for me seeing them win, and to win the next championship for them, because of how much work people put into it.
You’re talking about your mechanics, or -
Mechanics and anybody that’s involved, whether it’s a fan or [whoever], however little bit they contribute, it’s such a nice feeling to see them excited about being able to win that with you.
When you were racing, how important was a race win relative to winning a championship?
Obviously I wanted to win the race, that was on my mind. But the championship’s more important. That’s the goal and that’s what you live for. You go to that race and you just try to do everything you can to come out with the best position you can. And that day, first may not be what you’re able to do. You just have to work and think about surviving to get those points and be there at the end of the series, at the end of the championship.
Motocross is getting on television, a lot of people are saying it’s getting more mainstream. There’s talk that maybe a better way of making it mainstream would be to go to a one moto format for the outdoors. What do you think of that?
I think they need to do whatever’s going to be the best for everybody. The riders need to make some money, everybody needs to get something out of it. Personally I feel that being able to ride those long motos gave me an opportunity to do better than some guys because I was more suited for the long motos. I won a lot of races the last ten minutes in those forty minute motos. So that made a big difference to me. I still think that as a rider, that to prove that motocross is the most physically demanding sport, that the best person’s going to come out on top, you need those longer motos, those two motos. But whatever it takes to promote the sport to make it move forward I think is necessary, because these guys are taking too much risk and working too hard, and there’s just a few guys making money. And the other guys are going to have to live with the results of their injuries for the rest of their lives.
You have a son who’s in his 20s. Who you’ve taught how to ride and he’s very fast. You’ve also told me you don’t want him to race. Can you tell me why?
I’ve thought about this a lot and it’s a half and half situation. Half of me wants to see him race, but the other half of me that knows the injuries and stuff that you have to live with the rest of you life says it’s not worth it, not for the chance you’re taking. If I knew he could go out there and be picked up by a factory and make a decent living, and he’s going to get hurt regardless of what he does, but to make it worth it, then I can say, ‘Okay, that’s a good thing.’ But I just can’t justify seeing him get hurt early and not getting any money and then having difficulty with life because he doesn’t have a good education to back him up. So we’ve talked about it off and on, and my feeling about it is I’d like to see him get a good education so he can be able to pick a job he wants, and then be able to ride or race, do that for fun, not because he has to. A lot of the time I woke up in the middle of the night sick with the flu and I had to go racing the next day, or I was hurt and had to go racing. And that’s just not the good side of it. Everyone thinks the winning and the money and all that, that’s what they think a champion is, but there’s all the bad stuff that goes with it, too.
Howerton back in the day racing for Factory Suzuki on a Works RM250 or what they called a RH250. Dirt RIder Magazine photo archive.
If you could go back and not race, would you pick that?
I enjoy motocross, I enjoy riding, I enjoy all the people, but I’m having a heck of a time with all the injuries I have. People don’t understand when you get older it gets so much more difficult. It’s not so hard to live with injuries when you’re young, because you’ve got that endurance and that elasticity to yourself. And when you get old, just everything hurts, and it doesn’t go away, so that’s my biggest fear now. I’ll be 58 next month, what am I going to do when I’m in my 60s and 70s, am I even going to be able to move around? I don’t know.
But you’re obviously doing good once you’re going in the day because you’re out here. How often do you ride?
My son and I like to ride every Saturday and if I try to ride more that once a week I seem to hurt too much so I build myself all week to get to the weekend, to enjoy the weekend as much as I can. And then just wait for the next week and be prepared for it.
When you say build for the weekend do you mean stretching or just store your energy?
Store my energy, heal up from whatever body wear I do on that Saturday and just try to rest myself up and get the bikes ready and everything ready for the weekend.
A lot of guys, when they get a little older, they start riding off-road. You’re still going to the track on the weekend.
Well, that’s kind of complicated. I love the woods and I’m probably a better woods rider than any type of riding, but my son likes motocross, so we go to the motocross track. And I’m still riding half way decent on the track, so I’m still enjoying it. At some point in time I’m going to start doing more woods riding because my friends want to do it.
Do you have any bike set up tips for a guy that’s 58 and going to the motocross track?
The biggest thing is just get the bike set up to where you’re comfortable and feel safe on it, and don’t take any chances, because when you get to that age the last thing you want to do is get hurt and not be able to ride at all. I think being able to do this on the weekends gives you a good reason to look forward to living. I have friends in their 60s and 70s and I have one friend who’s just turned 80 years old and enjoys riding, and it gives him something to live for.