The path to heads-up drag racing is rarely straight or easy – it’s full of peaks and valleys that will test any man or woman who chooses to try their hand at the purest form of racing. Jim Howe, Jr. has jogged just about every inch of the heads-up racing trail, and that exercise in determination landed him in the seat of a rowdy, small-tire 1968 Camaro that’s a tribute to his father … and it’s what got him into heads-up racing.
Jim is a hard man to miss at the drag strip with his imposing size, immense personality, and a Camaro that looks as radical as it runs. These traits and the affection for first-generation Camaros stems from Jim’s father, Jim Howe, Sr., who also happened to be a decorated door car racer.
“I’m a second-generation drag racer who was practically raised at the track. My father bracket raced and was into fast door cars throughout the 1970s and ’80s in the Detroit, Michigan, area. He campaigned an eight-second 1967 Camaro named ‘Bad Boy’ with a big-block Chevrolet and a Lenco transmission. That car is where my love for the first-generation Camaro started. Dad sold the car and built a new 1984 Corvette, then started running the car in Super Comp. He eventually made the transition to Top Sportsman when the IHRA introduced the class,” Jim says.
"It didn't matter what it was - a three-wheeler, hour-wheeler, motorcycle, car, or truck, I would race whatever I could to get time on the track."
With racing ingrained so deeply into family life at the Howe household, their next step in racing really came as no surprise. Jim’s parents actually purchased a track, Central Michigan Dragway in Stanton, Michigan, proving the opportunity to fully live the racing life. With the level of racing exposure for Jim exploding to monumental levels, he began his racing career … albeit on two wheels at the time.
“About the time we purchased Central Michigan Dragway, a kids program for motorcycles was established in Michigan called Jr. Eliminator. That class got me into racing bikes from age eight, until I turned 14 and began racing cars at the track. I started racing cars, including a 14-second Nova, and drove everything with wheels on it when my folks owned the track. It didn’t matter what it was — a three-wheeler, four-wheeler, motorcycle, car or truck, I would race whatever I could to get time on the track,” Jim explains.
That anything-goes attitude allowed Jim to log thousands of passes down the track … and that was just the beginning. When Jim was 16, he stepped up to racing a big-block Chevelle that was the first racecar his father piloted. Behind the wheel of the family’s Chevelle, he was running well into the 11-second zone and won the Michigan High School Drags at Milan Dragway two years in a row.
After mastering the Chevelle, Jim’s father decided it was time for him to move on to something with a little more power, at the same time raising the level of competition he faced to test his talents as a driver.
“My dad contracted Bob Mandell from Bob’s Pro Fab to build a 1989 IROC Camaro tube chassis car for us. I started racing the car locally in Michigan at Milan Dragway, Detroit Dragway, and Central Michigan Dragway when it was ready. I slowly got the hang of the car and slid into the 8.70s and went to Indy to race in the bracket finals at the conclusion of the season,” Jim says.
Jim’s proven track record racing doorcars at various levels led to another step in his racing career: the transition to a dragster. With that, the Camaro was sold and replaced with an S&W-built dragster to be used in the pursuit of big-money bracket races. Just like everything else he piloted, Jim began logging a lot of laps in the cockpit of his new ride, racking up multiple final round appearances. That hard work paid off when he started to win lucrative events and even secured a track championship at Milan Dragway.
When Jim graduated from high school, he relocated to Tennessee to wrestle for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and continue his education. One weekend during Jim’s freshman year, his mother paid him a visit and they checked out a drag strip in the town of Crossville, Tennessee on a whim. That trip would once again thrust Jim and his family back into the business side of the sport.
“The track had gone by the name of Cumberland Raceway Park and was in bankruptcy, so no racing was going on. At the time, my father owned an auto repair and tire business in Michigan, but his doctors wanted him to get out of the fumes and other chemicals associated with the business due to his health. With all that in mind, mom and I made an offer on the track and the rest is history. After the purchase was finalized, we named it I-40 Dragway and had the entire facility repaved so we could start putting on big-money events,” Jim explains.
Jim’s racing took another turn the following year when he decided to jump into the ultra-fast IHRA Top Dragster class. After making it to several semi-finals, Jim had a new car built and was trying to figure things out with an all-motor combination but couldn’t quite get over the performance hump. After adding some nitrous and getting a handle on the torque converter, Jim picked up a win in Top Dragster at an IHRA national event. Another win and runner-up put him in the points lead until a burglary at the family home set them back and limited his racing for the remainder of the season.
Having spent years with big tires bolted to his rides and enjoying success on the track, it’s hard to imagine Jim doing any other kind of racing, but a trip to the track with a small-tire racing legend changed all of that in one weekend.
“In 1996, I went to see my good friend Keith Szabo run a small tire heads-up shootout at a track in Jackson Tennessee, and I was hooked immediately. I went home and started building a Monte Carlo street car that could run low sixes through the mufflers on a 235 DOT tire. That car set the stage for many more small-tire cars, ultimately leading me to the car I had always dreamed of: a first-generation Camaro,” Jim tells.
As Jim’s affection for small-tire racing increased, it led him, naturally, to street racing. The allure of this type of activity was fun, but because he was driving a truck and running a racetrack, it could negatively impact his livelihood. With that in mind, he started a heads-up race where no times were shown to mimic street racing, without the possibility of going to jail. It was the best of both worlds and allowed him to enjoy his Camaro the way he wanted.
When Jim began the build-up of his Camaro it had a nitrous combination, but that didn’t last long as he wanted something a bit more obnoxious. After seeing racers like Camp Stanley and the Wild Bunch at the track as a kid, he wanted a supercharged setup of his own to match what they did. In due time, the Camaro was powered by a roots-blown engine sipping alcohol … and it was everything Jim had wanted.
“The car has evolved from a street/strip nitrous car to the Blown BAE HEMI double framerail, back-half car it is today. After taking four years off to rebuild my life and start a new business and new family with my wife, Amanda, we have completed the car and are excited to be able to get back to the track,” Jim shares.
Like any project car, things can change quickly when a decision is made to alter the course of the build. In Jim’s case, the car had been taken to Tyree Smith at Tytech Performance to get a set of headers, but after Lyle Barnett’s crash, Jim decided to have the car updated for safety.
“When we really took a good look at the car, we decided to make it a bit safer, so we took the old car and built something new. Tyree and his staff sat down and helped us design a chassis that would hold the power we wanted to throw at it, with the ability to set it up for many different classes. The car is filled with parts from our good friends at Tim McAmis Performance Parts, and Billy Johnston was also a huge help during this build. We went with a Moser Engineering full floater rear that Kip Hayward selected for us and installed our brackets and bracing on the housing. Todd from TRZ Motorsports provided us with some drop spindles and new A-arms up front. Tytech made some killer 4-link brackets to accept the TRZ adjustable rear shock mounts, as well,” Jim says.
To keep up in the no-prep, grudge, and limited-tire drag racing classes, Jim added a Brad Anderson Engineering Hemi with billet crank, GRP connecting rods, and Diamond pistons for a rotating assembly. On top of the BAE cylinder heads and providing boost is a rowdy 14-71 Hammer Superchargers roots-style blower. All of the power that’s produced is pushed through a Rossler TH400 transmission and ProTorque converter. With a Davis Technologies Profiler keeping things in check, Jim has run a best of 4.29 at 173 mph in the Camaro.
Getting his Camaro to this point has been a 13-year long journey for Jim and was made possible with the help of some important people.
“Tytech built us a stellar car, and David Reese from Reese Brothers Race Cars has worked with me since its completion, making the car 60-foot and handle better as well as it has. I could not do this without the help of everyone involved, including my main guy, Mark Burke, my best friend and wife, Amanda Howe, my father Jim Howe, Sr., and my entire family. I am blessed to have such a great bunch of people helping us with this car. But the single most important person involved is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him, none of this would be possible.”
Jim Howe, Jr. has spent a lifetime chasing win-lights at the track with his family at the drag strip. That dedication to the sport has been funneled into his spectacular 1968 Camaro that honors his father’s contribution to Jim’s taste in cars. This Camaro is more than just some steel and carbon fiber rolling on small tires to Jim — it’s a way of life that will always be with he and his family.