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Steve Howard - RIP

Steve Howard - RIP
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Los Angeles, CA, - Retired CRA sprint car driver Steve N. Howard, 61, passed away on December 16, 2014 at home in Lakewood. He had battled serious health problems and was hospitalized several years ago for a liver problem. He fought back and operated his long-time family business—So-Cal Racing products in Downey. Steve was a reliable entrepreneur in the center of the Perris Auto Speedway with his truck and table of products since that track opened in 1996. The last race he attended at PAS was the USAC National Midget Turkey Night GP on November 27, 2014.

Steve also was a regular spectator at the Industry Speedway Wednesday night speedway bike races from May through August. I had a chance to talk to Steve at length last August at Industry Speedway shortly before the first heat race. He was the same Steve as always, upbeat and looking forward to watching the two-wheelers race that night. He normally attended these events with Mike English and his wife Lori.

Steve was born on July 25, 1953 as the youngest of three sons born to to the late Glenn and Patricia Howard. Gary, 64, and Mike, 62, also followed their racer father Glenn and raced sprint cars. Gary was a 1971 CRA rookie. Mike raced with CRA briefly in the 1970s and currently lives in North Carolina. Gary currently resides and builds engines in Santa Clarita for Honda Performance Development. He was present at Steve's memorial service Friday, January 23.

Steve had given power of attorney over his affairs to his close friend and fellow CRA sprint car driver Mike English, of Norwalk, when he was seriously ill and hospitalized in the past. Steve had last Thanksgiving dinner with the English family before traveling to Perris to watch the TNGP. The English family maintained frequent contact with Steve over the years. When he could not be reached by telephone Mike and Lori's daughter Heather checked on Steve and found him sitting in a chair deceased. His body was cremated per his wishes; his ashes will be scattered at sites important to him.

Photo by Scott Daloisio

MEMORIAL SERVICE: The memorial service for Steve was held Friday, January 23 from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm in the Church of Our Fathers at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress. More than 120 persons attended the somber, yet uplifting service conducted by celebrant Darrell McGowan. The retired minister officiates at funerals when summoned by Forest Lawn staff. He related pertinent facts about Steve's life and passing. He said Steve and his wife Jaime had divorced many years ago but had remained friends. He added that Steve later had a daughter, Katie, and tried to remain close to her.

McGowan invited attendees to come forward, state their names and talk briefly about Steve. Driver Jim Tanner spoke first. CRA driver Dave Ondo spoke for himself and read a note driver Buzz Rose, an Arizona resident, gave him to read. SCRA publicist Robert Mayson related Steve's racing accomplishments and said he was a fast and fierce driver. Ginny Abrahamson (a Howard family name before a split) gave family data. Steve's cousin Linda, his former sister-in-law Joei Ryan (nee McCormick) said compassionate Steve had come to Arizona to console her after her husband died eight months ago. Joei and her father Ed McCormick (Steve's former father-in-law) had come from Mesa, Ariz. and joined Steve's former wife Jaime in a front pew. Ed was a long-time CRA corner yellow flagman as were his late brothers Bruce and Bob.

Other speakers: J. C. Agajanian, Jr. represented the Agajanian family and said Steve always greeted him by saying “Hi Aggie”. Midget driver Jimmy Voitel recalled Steve spending time at the Voitel family farm in Iowa. Jimmy said he came to California in 1984 and the Howard family helped him. “Steve was like a father and brother figure to me.” He added, “Steve talked about his mom Pat as though she was a movie star. He also was proud of his dad and brother Mike, but oldest brother Gary (a seven-time CRA feature winner in his dad's No. 94 “White Lightning” sprinter and in the Vermeer 87, Higuchi 14 and Bartosh 26) was a rival.”

Interspersed during the memorial service were recordings of appropriate songs selected by the family. They were: “Remember Me” by Tim McGraw; “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by Vince Gill; “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston; “Goodbye My Friend” by Linda Ronstadt, and “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban.

The printed memorial card had a color photo of Steve in his So-Cal driving uniform and at speed in his No. 94. On the back of the Thomas Kinkade card was : “Afterglow – I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one. I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done. I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways. Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days. I'd like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun. Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.”

Celebrant McGowan concluded the service by saying, “Don't get over grief, get through it. Try to tell another story of the one gone.” He added, “Steve could be characterized by words spoken earlier about him. Honesty, caring, truthfulness, generosity, dedication, determination, strength, support, toughness, sense of justice, and heart of gold. Steve left a positive imprint on people he met.” He advised mourners to take those words with them as they return to their daily lives and try to live them as Steve did.

Attendees filed out of the chapel by passing mounted photos of Steve at various stages of his racing career, a remains box, and floral wreaths. Many visited friends outside before adjourning 1.7 miles SE of the cemetery to a reception from1:00-4:00 pm at Cypress Parks & Recreation Center. The list of racers who time out of their lives to pay their respects to Steve was impressive. Numerous fellow sprint car drivers signed the guest book.

Present were: Mike & Lori English, Rip & Becky Williams and their sons Cody and Austin, Sleepy & Erin Tripp, Stan & Diane Atherton, Tommy & Jeannie Hunt and son Tony, Lee & Lori James (down from Roseville), John Redican, Jimmy Oskie, Steve Ostling, Tony Jones, Damion Gardner (who finished third in the Tulsa Chili Bowl A-main six days earlier), Ed Hudson and racer son Jerry, Tom Downing, Gene Ellis, Cal Smith, Jake Swanson, plus speakers J. Voitel, D. Ondo and J. C. Agajanian with his wife Franci. Focus midget/speedway bike racer Courtney Crone, 13, and her father Jack also attended; she said Steve had encouraged her racing.

Others present included: timer/scorer Dick Hindman, sponsor Paul Wiessner, R.Mayson, Wendi James Loverin, Anne Wilkerson, Janie (Wilkerson) Rolfson, Renee (Kruseman) Kiser (Cory's mom), Leanne Scheetz, and long-time fan Arlene Fernandez. Persons had sandwiches and soft drinks during the reception and swapped memories of Steve and racing at Ascot Park. Hosts were Steve's brother Gary and the English family. They deserve accolades for their friendship, devotion and loyalty to their friend Steve Howard.

RACING CAREER: To recap Steve's sprint car racing career I delved into my stored CRA records from my11years as CRA publicity director from 1968 through 1978. I also used 1979 and later data from Ascot and other races, plus Internet records. Steve, at age 18, was a CRA rookie driver in 1972 for a few races in Paul Wiessner's No. 42 Chevy. Paul's Atlas Auto Parts was a long-time sponsor of Steve's father Glenn. Steve's brother Gary was a 1971 CRA at age 21 in the same car. The 1972 CRA rookie of the year was the late, Dean Thompson, 1980-82 CRA sprint car champion and all-time CRA feature winner with 103. As a rookie Thompson scored 170 points and finished 15th in points. Steve scored 13 points and placed 58th in 1972 CRA points. ACV

During 1973 Steve scored 37 points for 42nd position. He had no points in 1974, but scored 166 for 20th position in 1975 CRA points. Steve's first CRA main event victory came aboard Greg Cunningham's No. 32 Chevy on 5/26/75 in a 30-lap Santa Maria Speedway race. His second of five CRA feature wins occurred on 10/29/77 at Ascot in the first of two “Firecracker 50s”. He drove his dad's No. 94 Chevy that brother Gary had driven to victories, including his first CRA feature win on 4/19/75 at Irwindale's Speedway 605 paved half-mile. Gary later won three CRA mains in Hank Higuchi's No. 14, one in Joe Kasperoff's No. 391 and two in the Jim & Sandra Bartosh No. 26.

Gary Howard ran the first long-awaited 19-second lap in Ascot time trials with his 19.827 on 4/10/76. The Cragar 19-second club resulted. Brother Steve became the third member of the Cragar 19-second club at Ascot with his 19.902 on 9/10/78 in his dad's No. 94 Chevy. Buster Venard on 7/29/78 ran a 19.993 and was the second driver to run a 19-second lap. Dean Thompson ran the fourth ever Ascot 19-second lap on 7/28/79 with the then new track record 19.666.

Steve won his third CRA feature in the Ascot 30-lapper on 5/13/78 in his dad's No. 94 Roger Beck-built chassis. At the Imperial County Fairgrounds half-mile dirt track near El Centro on 3/4/79 Steve set the fastest qualifying time in a 46-car field aboard his dad's No. 94. His fourth CRA feature victory came in the Ascot 30-lap main on 6/23/79 with 51-cars entered. He drove the famed Morales brothers Chevy No. 1 that 1978 CRA champion Rick Goudy vacated two months earlier when he retired from racing.

Steve's CRA record as a driver showed 15 fastest qualifying times (two in 1977, seven in 1978 and six in 1979). Ten of his 15 fast times came in his dad's No. 94 Chevy and five were in the Don Edmunds-built Morales No. 1 Chevy. He also won 18 CRA three-lap trophy dashes for the four fastest qualifiers in addition to his five feature triumphs. Steve scored a career-best 744 points and finished fourth in 1979 CRA driver point standings.

In addition to his successes noted above, Steve also had his share of flips as did even CRA champions.The roll-cage era of CRA racing started after the 1969 season concluded so all of Steve's 12 flips came with the protective cage above him. Ten flips were in his dad's No. 94. Others were in Bob Vermeer's No. 87 and the Morales No. 1. By year his flips were: 1973-four times (three at Ascot, one at Manzanita in Phoenix);1975-two times at Ascot Park in Gardena; 1976-77-once each season at Ascot; 1978-once at Chula Vista Speedway 117; 1979-two times (at El Centro and Ascot) and 1981-once at Ascot.

Steve escaped injury in all but two of those incidents. The 1978 Chula Vista crash on September 30 was caused by a stuck throttle. Steve's No. 94 dug into the cushion, flipped twice on the track, cleared the first turn crash-wall, and flipped several times down a sloped ten-foot embankment. He landed upright and was conscious. Steve walked to the ambulance, was checked at a local hospital, and escaped with bloodshot eyes. His final flip in 1981 was his worst. On October 3during qualifying, Steve entered turn one, bicycled and flipped three times. His No. 94 executed two endos and one barrel-roll and landed close to the grandstand. He received broken ribs in that crash.

It was his last flip. Steve soon joined his father Glenn operating So-Cal Racing Products in Downey. When his died Steve became the firm's operator. He was a key force behind the annual Glenn Howard Memorial sprint car race each year at Perris Auto Speedway. He expertly found sponsorship money for that race. Steve also was a pivotal force in starting the annual Labor Day weekend sprint car and midget Saturday-Sunday doubleheader—the Louie Vermeil Classic at Calistoga Speedway in the Napa Valley. Obviously, Steve will be missed by everyone who knew him. RIP.

Photo by Scott Daloisio via www.indianaopenwhee.com"Steve Howard in the fantastic Morales Brothers "Tamale Wagon", a Don Edmunds creation"