CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 9, 2003) - Eighteen-year-old Shelby Howard will be among the favorites when the ARCA RE/MAX Series returns to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 150 during Bojangles' Pole Night Thursday, Oct.
CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 9, 2003) - Eighteen-year-old Shelby Howard will be among the favorites when the ARCA RE/MAX Series returns to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 150 during Bojangles' Pole Night Thursday, Oct. 9.
At a time when the so-called "young guns" are taking NASCAR by storm, Howard appears to have a very bright future.
"I don't think there could be a much better time for me to do what I'm doing," said the Indiana native. "It's been very helpful to race in ARCA and race on a lot of the same tracks the Winston Cup Series visits. A lot of those teams are looking for young talent, so I've been doing everything I can to hopefully be a driver they want."
In a relatively short time, Howard has gone through a meteoric rise from a young contender in the ARCA RE/MAX Series to a legitimate threat to win every race. He also concedes he was fortunate to get a "grandfather" exemption which allowed him to continue racing after ARCA officials mandated a minimum age requirement.
"I kind of lucked out getting to run in the ARCA series at the age I did because now you can't race until you're 18," said Howard. "I had already raced at tracks like Charlotte and Atlanta to get the experience of racing on the bigger, faster tracks. That was a huge break for me."
Heading back to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Oct. 9 EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 150, Howard is taking a more modest approach than some of his ARCA peers.
"It's a very important race, but I think a lot of the ARCA guys go to Charlotte with the mindset that all these Winston Cup team owners are watching and they end up driving harder than they need to," Howard explained. "I don't really see why they drive like that. I just try to treat it like any other race. I do what I do every week and that's try my best.
"I go to every track wanting to win. As far as feeling more pressure because we're racing at Charlotte, I don't really feel that way," Howard continued. "I race as hard at Charlotte as I do at Winchester or Salem because I go everywhere with the intention of winning.
"Don't get me wrong because I would truly love to win at Charlotte," Howard added. "That would be a huge race to win. Of all the tracks the ARCA series races at, Charlotte is definitely one of the places I'd like to win."
Howard got involved in racing after being more of a stick-and-ball sports fan.
"I started racing junior sprint cars when I was 9 years old, and that was basically around northern Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee," he explained. "When I started, I didn't know the first thing about racing. I didn't even know who Jeff Gordon was because I was really into basketball and football. I had a couple of buddies who were racing junior sprints when that series was just getting started, so through them I got the chance to get in one of their cars and ended up liking it a lot. I talked to my dad about it and a week later we had a car and were pretty much racing every weekend."
From that point, Howard became very passionate about racing. When he was 12, he started running modifieds on local paved tracks in Indiana and picked up his first victory the night before his 13th birthday.
Howard made his ARCA debut at Indiana's high-banked Salem Speedway in 2001 and turned more than a few heads by finishing sixth. However, his first full season at the ARCA level in 2002 featured several bumps in the road.
"My first season in ARCA was pretty much a struggle," Howard admitted. "We kind of pieced our cars together and ended up finishing fifth in the points that year. It was a big learning curve not only for me but all the guys that work on my team. It's been nice to see that we've gotten a little bit better every race."
Howard picked up his first ARCA victory at Kansas Speedway this season and followed it with a second win at Salem. He is well on his way to bettering his fifth-place finish in the final ARCA RE/MAX Series point standings.
"This year has been a lot better for us, mainly because we switched our cars to Dodge," said Howard. "We have a really good motor program with Ernie Elliott. It's been a lot easier on me this year and I've learned a lot. In all reality, the last two years have been the biggest learning curve in my life. I've tried to learn as much as I can in case I ever get the chance to race a truck or in the Busch Series. As far as a timetable for reaching Winston Cup, I'd like to be there as soon as possible but I don't want to get there too early."
Tickets for the Oct. 9 EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 150, the ARCA RE/MAX Series season finale, start at $12 and can be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.