The world of Pro Mod racing has lost one of its pioneers.
James Thomas Howes Jr., better known as Tommy “The Who” Howes passed away March 23 in Laytonsville, Maryland. He was 76.
Before the Pro Mod class existed, he ran the first 6-second run in Atco, N.J., in 1988 with a supercharged Top Sportsman 300 ZX. He was inducted into the Maryland International Raceway in 2011.
A lifelong mechanic, Howes lived a fast life and his love of drag racing ruled his world.
It all started for Howes at the old 75/80 Dragway in Monrovia, Md. Only Howes knows why he decided back in the early 1980s to put a GMC 6-71 blower on his 1968 Camaro Super Pro car, but that decision and a number of subsequent events led to the creation of the Outlaw doorslammer type of drag racing that continues to grow in popularity to this day.
One night at Maryland International Raceway when a jet car didn’t show – Howes’ life changed forever. In a bind, track owner Tod Mack strolled through the pits to see if any of the local bracket machines had the right look and performance to line up against Roger Gustin’s jet Funny Car. He found the perfect match with Howes’ blown Camaro. Howes faced off against the big, bad jet and while he didn’t win, his efforts proved to be hugely popular with the fans. Soon Howes was match racing at MIR and Colonial Beach against other supercharged cars.
Mack formed a circuit called the “Wild Bunch,” and Howes was one its brightest stars.
The group ran all over the East Coast and Midwest, increasing the popularity of Outlaw doorslammers. Howes and fellow Wild Bunch member Camp Stanley even toured Australia, prompting an entirely new Australian Wild Bunch that races to this day.
While the Wild Bunch was carving out its stake for the title of baddest doorslammers in the world, similar efforts were underway down South and across the country as nitrous powered cars began to hit increasingly fast speeds.
St Louis racer Bill Kuhlmann blasted through the 200-mph zone in March 1987 and that left only one mark for the door cars to achieve: the sport’s first 6-second run. Enter Howes, who accomplished the feat on June 4, 1988, at the IHRA Summernationals in Atco. Howes clocked a 6.996-second run at 201.79 mph, permanently leaving his mark in drag racing history.
That run caught the attention of racers far and wide. All the nitrous cars wanted to run that blown Datsun from Maryland, and all the top racers from all over the country came to MIR to face him.
Howes was up for the challenge.
Event after event, nobody could touch the tough guy from Laytonsville. Howes rebodied the car as a Chevy Cavalier, but that, with crew chief Jimmy Lyons tuning, just made it faster. Howes continued to set new performance marks every year at MIR and maintained a winning match race percentage against the top cars in the sport.
Howes continued his legacy at MIR in a new Chevy Camaro that helped to establish the track’s wildly popular Frantic Four and Frantic Seven series. Over the years, the names of the competitors changed, but through it all, Howes continued to race at the very top of the outlaw doorslammer category.
Howes was preceded in death by his parents; Tom and Irene as well as his old “partners in crime” – Jimmy Lyons and JB Brogan
Howes is survived by his wife, Jo Ann and three children; Tommy, Bobby and Angela or as he liked to call her – “Pebbles,” 12 grandchildren and his lifelong friend, Tommy Troxler.
A memorial service/celebration of life will be held in Maryland, at a later date. If you would like to be included in the notifications please send an email to thew[email protected]
In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the SECU Hospice House, Payable to the Johnston Health Foundation 426 Hospital Road P.O. Box 1376 Smithfield, NC 27577 In Memory of James Howes.