FLASHBACK FRIDAY | KENT HOWERTON, AKA BENGT HOOPERTON
There was a time in American motocross when Texas was the hotbed of racing. Not only did Texas have some of the best tracks in the country, such as Rio Bravo, Lake Whitney and Mosier Valley, it was a breeding ground for Lone Star hot shoes. The fastest were Steve Wise, Steve Stackable, Danny Doss, Jody Foust, Tim Riddle, Bobby Pickard, Jack Hicks, Steve Hackney, Wyman Priddy and Kent Howerton. The greatest of the Lone Star stars, Kent Howerton, nicknamed the “Rhinestone Cowboy,” won three AMA National Championships and two Trans-USA titles. By the end of his career, “Bengt Hooperton” had won 32 career AMA Nationals—and when he retired, he was second on the all-time AMA 250cc win list. Howerton was also the 1980 AMA Pro Athlete of the Year, a two-time winner of the 250 USGP, a two-time member of the American Motocross des Nations team and a two-time ABC-TV Superbikers Champ.
Kent knew so little about motocross that at his first-ever race he signed up in the Expert class—and finished third. Two weeks later he won the Expert class, and by 1974 Kent won his first AMA 250 National on a Husqvarna. Husky was so impressed with Howerton that they signed him to their team for 1975 and paid him a whopping $8000. Kent just missed winning the 1975 250 National Championship, finishing second to Team Suzuki’s Tony DiStefano.
By 1976 Kent Howerton had matured as a rider and had invented his signature riding trick, one that would forever become a part of the sport—clutching it. With ace mechanic Eric Crippa changing clutches between motos, Howerton discovered that he could enter a corner a gear high if he slipped the clutch out of it. He was the only rider using the trick in 1976, and he used it effectively to finish fourth overall in the 250 Nationals and to win the AMA 500 National Championship. Howerton’s 1976 500 title was the last championship for a European brand until Grant Langston won the 125 title for KTM 27 years later.
Howerton left Husqvarna after a disastrous 1978 season and signed on at Team Suzuki. It was at Suzuki that Howerton would achieve his greatest fame and face his toughest competitor, Bob Hannah.
In 1980 Howerton won 10 Nationals and the 250 National Championship in convincing form, but the victory was diminished by the absence of Hannah, who had suffered a broken leg in a water-skiing accident. The real test of both riders’ wills would be played out in the 1981 AMA 250 Nationals. No friendship was lost between the two, and their battles were so epic that Hannah actually ghost-rode his bike into Howerton at the 1981 Saddleback National. Amazingly, Howerton remounted and passed Hannah to take the first moto win in one of the most emotional comebacks in moto-history. Hannah won the second moto, but Howerton trumped the Hurricane with a four-race win streak that gave him the 1981 AMA 250 title.
Neither Howerton nor Hannah would ever win another championship. Kent suffered a broken wrist at the end of the ’81 season and a broken leg in 1982. By 1983 he moved to Team Kawasaki as a development rider, where he managed to take second overall in the 1983 500 Nationals behind Broc Glover.
Kent retired after the ’84 season, but he left an admirable record of achievements, including victory in the 1979 and 1984 ABC-TV Superbikers, the 1976 500 National Championship, and the 1980–’81 AMA 250 National Championships. The Rhinestone Cowboy, who got his name because of his wildly colored tennis shoes, was a Texas hero; however, the ultimate Texas motocross star was actually born in Wichita, Kansas.