Lee Howe of Westminster has been drag racing since 1977. The 33-year-old father of two has been a consistent competitor at the 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, Frederick County. When he started, he turned the quarter-mile in 15 seconds. Today, he is going almost twice as fast in his Super Comp dragster.
Howe started hanging out with Mike Mathias and others who were into drag racing. He went with them, learned about engines, enjoyed it and became hooked.
He started racing with a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle. He drove the car to the track and back. Ever since his first trip down the track, he has always wanted to go quicker.
After a couple of years driving his Chevelle, he brought a 1972 Camaro that was more than two seconds faster. It wasn't long before he moved on to a 1972 Chevrolet Vega, one of the first tube chassis cars in the area. Howe put the car in the 10-second bracket.
In 1986, he teamed with Mathias to build a dragster. Howe built the chassis and Mathias built the engines. Mathias dropped out of racing to take over his family's dairy farm, and Howe has been running Super Comp ever since.
The faster you go, the more it costs. Howe estimates that he had only $2,500 in his first car. He invested about $4,500 in the Camaro, and the Vega required $2,000 more.
The dragster almost tripled Howe's initial investment. But the cars are only part of the cost. A truck and trailer are needed for the dragster and, before you know it, the total investment is over $45,000.
But if you enjoy racing as much as Howe does, the investment is worth the thrill that reaching 170 mph in under nine seconds brings.
The 1990 season was Howe's best yet. He had a runner-up, a second-place finish and a quarterfinal finish in the divisional meets, and he won consistently at 75-80.
But the 1991 season was the opposite. Parts kept breaking and nothing went Howe's way. And he was starting his own business at the same time.
"It was rough on me," said Howe. "I opened my own business in January after working for Westminster Motors for 14 years. I decided to try it. I felt if I could make it now, I could make it anytime."
Howe Automotive and Repair Shop in Westminster has been successful. "I am honest and up front with everyone," Howe said. Howe's work comes first. Now that his business is off to a successful start, his racing has become more consistent this year.
There were a couple of times when Howe almost threw in the towel. After the transmission on his dragster broke, he parked his car and thought he was done for the day. While he was discussing the problem with the manufacturer's representative, Dave McCarthy and the Davis brothers, fellow Super Comp competitors from Westminster, replaced his transmission.
Howe competes on the Dave Bishop Super Comp circuit and the National Hot Rod Association Nationals when they are in the area. The expense of competing keeps him close to home.
"I am about as far as I can be without corporate help," said Howe. "It takes $200 to enter a national, four days of motel expenses and you have gone through $1,000."
Howe's 1,350-pound dragster is powered by a 396-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine. He also has a big-block 427-cubic-inch Chevy, but uses his smaller engine because it is more consistent and runs so close to the 8.90 time.
The dragster is fast, no matter what motor he uses. It is capable of 170 mph in a quarter-mile with the larger engine.
Howe almost quit racing about five years ago. Pushing his vehicles beyond their limits led to costly repairs. Once he went through that stage, Howe realized he had to be consistent to win money and has raced with that in mind ever since.
Howe's wife, Sherry, and their two children, Bethany, 5, and Adam, 5 months, are with him at almost every race. "I would have never made it this far without the help from my wife and my family," said Howe. "It's not the same when she isn't there."
Howe plans to race for some time to come. "I'll keep racing until I don't get the thrill out of it," he said. "There is nothing else out there I want to do. I enjoy working on the car as much as racing it. I enjoy the friends at the track. It is a good time."
Howe would like to race a funny car someday, but right now he is happy where he is. The way he loves drag racing, Howe would be happy just racing any car down the track.