The Howard Eater Story
(Or the tale of two Studebakers)
By Dean Lowe with Rodney Bauman
(Copyrighted material: Used by permission)
Howard Eater I
To tell the whole story of how Howard Eater I and II came to be, we need to go back to 1960. My Dad, Buzz Lowe, had purchased a new 1960 El Camino with the 348, Tri Power, 4 speed option, to use as a "shop truck". Always a racer, Dad began running the El Camino at the drags. Dad had known Ak Miller since the early 50's. One day at Ak's garage Ak told Dad he should take the El Camino to El Mirage in May for the first lakes meet of the 1960 season. Ak's shop foreman, Jack Lufkin, had started running his ' 56 Corvette at El Mirage the year before, and helped convince Dad to give it a try. At the May meet, we entered the El Camino in the B gas coupe and sedan class per the SCTA rule book. The class record was held by Howard Dixson in his ' 57 Pontiac at 128 mph. By the end of the meet, Dad had run 134mph, and set a new class record. Dad was hooked on dry lakes racing! Over the course of the 1960 season Dad raised the record at all 5 meets with the El Camino, finishing the last meet with the record at 144mph. It was quite a heated battle between Dad and Howard Dixson. During each meet they both raised the class record, but Dad always beat Howard's time by just enough to claim the record. Dad earned enough points to win the SCTA season high point trophy for 1960. At the awards banquet, Howard told Dad "wait till next year", and gave him a wink.
Howard had a surprise for 1961. He and his son in law, Doug Ray, worked during the off season building a ' 53 Studebaker coupe to run his Pontiac engine in. At the first meet of the ' 61 season, Howard showed up with his new coupe, and ran 146 to claim the class record. Dad said "that SOB Dixson isn't going to get away with that"! It was on! Before another week had passed we located a suitable ' 53 Studebaker coupe, and hauled it down to Ak's garage. We worked 3 weeks, burning a lot of midnight oil, swapping the drive train from the El Camino into the Stude. The car was taken to Frank Kurtis' shop in Glendale to have a full roll cage fitted. Frank wanted to fit one of his straight axle torsion bar set ups to the Stude, but there was no time. The night before the June lakes meet we were doing last minute work on the car at Ak's, and Dennis Jones came by. He was just starting his painting and lettering business, and offered to put some lettering on the Stude. After lettering the car for our business, L&L Screw Machine Products, Ak said, this thing needs a name. And so it was Ak who christened the car the "Howard Eater". Ak loved to stir up controversy, and figured the name would ruffle Howard Dixson's feathers real good. The next day it did just that when Dad made his first run at 147 and took the record back. Dad and Howard swapped the class record at the rest of the ' 61 season meets with Dad closing the season with the record at 154mph.
The first lakes meet of 1962 was the last for the Howard Eater. It was a windy day on the lake bed, which proved to be the Howard Eater, and my undoing. I had made the last run of the ' 61 season in the car at 152mph, and was itching to drive it again. Against Dad's better judgment, I strapped in for the first run in the car. From there I get pretty foggy on what happened. I remember pulling the shifter into 4th gear, then nothing but dust. Apparently, a strong cross wind picked the car up and it began doing endos. Burke Le Sage, who was pushing back from a run in Don Alderson's roadster saw the whole thing. Burke said he counted 9 rolls before the car finally came to rest upside down. I remember waking up at the little hospital in Adelanto having my jacket and Levis cut off me. The next time I woke up was in Los Angeles at the California Hospital, and the doctor telling me my spine was broken in 3 places. I spent 3 weeks in the hospital, and was sent home in a full upper body cast. Not a great way to begin your 17th summer.
Howard Eater II
During my 3 week stay in the hospital, Dad and I discussed our future in racing. I was very much involved in drag racing my street roadster pick up, and wanted to continue once I had recovered. We talked about running the lakes and Bonneville, and the decision was made to build another car. It was already the middle of June when I came home from the hospital. Though I had 40 pounds of plaster to carry around, I was able to work with my hands and drive, so I was anxious to start working on something. We found another nice ' 53 Studebaker coupe, and the decision was made to attempt to have it running at Bonneville less than 3 months away in August. The engine and transmission was pulled from the wrecked Stude, and hauled, along with the new coupe over to Kurtis Kraft. This time the car would be built to run in SCTA altered coupe and sedan class with 25% engine set back, and a full Kurtis cross torsion bar tube axle front end. One problem with the previous car was limited rear end ratios with the Chevy rear axle. The new car was built with a Halibrand Champ quick change. A full cage was fitted along with a Ross center steering box. For safety, Jim Deist made a parachute that was recessed into the deck lid. When the car was brought to our shop from Kurtis, we worked practically round the clock for 2 weeks before Bonneville speed week. With about 2 hours sleep, we left for the salt on opening day of speed week 1962. The car was in primer, and the engine had not even been fired since the crash in the previous Stude. We worked on the car all day Saturday and Sunday, and Monday afternoon put the car on the line for it's first run. dad's first pass in the new car qualified for an attempt at the C/altered record. Tuesday morning he ran a two way average of 164.53 for a new record. We loaded up and came home on Wednesday. We had built a new car for a new class in less than 3 months, got it to Speed Week, and set a record. Howard Eater II was a success. Later in ' 62 the car was stripped down and all the running gear was chrome plated, and the body sprayed a bright yellow in the back of our shop by Jim Burrell who was a painter for Dean Jefferies. When the car was re assembled, Dennis Jones lettered a nice big 57 on the door along with L&L Screw Machine Products, El Monte, Ca, and of course over the rear fender, just as on the first Studebaker, Howard Eater II. We ran the car again in ' 63 at Bonneville taking first in class, but missing another new record. That was the last time dad ran the Stude on the salt, but not the last time it ran. My partner, who I was drag racing my roadster with, Rollie Gravel, wanted to run at Bonneville, so Dad loaned him the Howard Eater II. Rollie ran various sized small block Chevys, and a small block 260 Ford in the car for 4 years. Rollie earned enough points at the lakes in ' 67 to win SCTA high point champion, and set 3 different class records at El Mirage and Bonneville with the Howard Eater. His fastest record was 186 in D/fuel coupe. That same week he went for broke and upped the nitro percentage in an attempt to run over 200mph. Rollie made a down run at 193mph, and while showing over 200mph on the tach on the return run, the little Chevy's rods exited the block. And with that final run in 1967, the Howard Eater II was done on the salt. The car was put in the back of our shop. Rollie took his engines, and the car sat there for a couple of years. In ' 69 the Halibrand rear end went in one of Ak miller's Pike's Peak cars. The car sat for another year or so, and was finally sold to the service manager at El Monte Ford. We never saw the car again. I thought the Howard Eater was history. Then, one day, about two years ago, I got a call from Rodney Bauman. Rodney said his friend had bought an old Studebaker that still had L&L Screw Machine Products lettered on it. He sent me some pictures, and though the Stude had been re painted with a wild full flame job, I recognized it immediately. The Howard Eater is alive!! I got to see the car in person at last year's Antique Nationals in Fontana. All the chrome underneath is long gone, but the rest of the car is like a time capsule. Exactly as it was built in 1962. Dad has been gone since 2000, but a little bit of him lives on in that old Studebaker.