With real V-8-powered cars on bigger tracks going 200 mph, at what point did it go from family fun to a serious run at a career? "When he was 13 or 14, that's when we decided maybe he's got a future in racing," says Dad, who is often Shelby's spotter. "It was just something he wanted to get into. We still support him 100 percent. If he came home tomorrow and said he wanted to go play basketball, we'd go play basketball. I don't think that's going to happen at this point," he adds laughing.
Shelby's Mom, Tonya, says it's a family thing. "We thought we'd do something fun with him on the weekends-keep him busy," she recalls. "I thought, OK, it'll be something fun we can do as a family . . . really never thought it would get to this point, or even imagined that this was what he wanted to do. He just never really showed that much interest in racing when he was little. But he definitely has shown us this is something we need to try to help him do. It keeps me very busy because I have a very big part in it." Big indeed. Mom stickers all the cars, takes care of the radios, makes the team's reservations, pays the bills, and still has time to feed the crew. And if that's not enough, Shelby says, "she keeps me in line."
Does Shelby's racing ever get to the mom in her when he's on a superspeedway? "That was a little intimidating," Tonya says. "The first time we went to Daytona to test and the third day he started drafting, I was about in tears. But it's just that step he's taking. You really feel like when they're drafting at Daytona, you know he's really in the big leagues-even when it's an ARCA car, which it still is. To me, it's almost no different because they're going the same speed. I can't say that every time I'm setting up there and he's out there, I'm not worried, and relieved when its over. It's a mom thing. Kelly [his girlfriend] and I sit up there together and grab onto each other."
So is it a problem for her? Not really. "He's made it pretty easy," she admits. "He's a good kid. Any time there's ever a question of what we are going to do, we can always sit down with him and talk to him. I think this is what he wants to be doing."
Yeah, he may be one of the young guns we all hear about, but Shelby Howard has his head squarely on his shoulders and solely on racing. Watch this guy-he's going places.
What's Your Take On Shelby?It's never easy to make the transition from smaller cars and tracks to the bigger versions. Theoretically, it should be more difficult if you are younger and/or a younger team. Also, we all know how a new team gets put under a microscope when it enters a new series. Those racing around a new driver can often be counted on for a good read, so we asked ARCA RE/MAX regulars Jason Jarrett and Mark Gibson for their take on Shelby. They were surprisingly candid about his progress so far.
Jarrett likes the person Shelby has presented to ARCA racers and officials. "He's a competitive person, but he doesn't have to, like, continually prove it to everybody," says Jarrett. "He knows he has that fire within himself to be able to be competitive and win races. I like that in people because I feel like that's sort of how my dad and I are. There are a lot of other people like that, it's just that the ones you see are the ones who are a little more outgoing with their competitiveness."
When asked when he knew Shelby had "arrived" in ARCA, Jarrett says, "It seems like at Salem in the spring , I know he won the race but it's like he had a dominant car and he knew what to do with it. And that's pretty impressive in a young person, whether they're young or old, just somebody starting out in these cars and in this series. That was pretty impressive because I know he came by me two or three times, and I didn't think I was having that bad of a day. He knew that he had a good enough car to win and was able to do that."
Gibson also cites the Salem race, but for another reason: "I think it was here at Salem in the spring. He just drove a heck of a race [to be able to] outrun Frank Kimmel here at Salem. I understand Shelby has got a lot of laps here just like Frank, but still you've got to outrun Frank on his own terms. And he did that. I knew he was running hard and he and Frank were having a heated battle. I think that probably impressed me. I think it turned a corner for him. He got the first win under his belt and outran the best guy over here in this garage. Yeah, it was at his home track, but it was also Frank's home track. I think that was the turning point in his career, maybe."
Gibson knows the often transitional nature of ARCA teams and sees good things for Shelby down the road. "He's a good little race car driver," Gibson continues. "He'll be in Winston Cup soon, I think. His age has probably held him back since the 18-year [minimum age] deal came in. But he's got a lot of talent. He's already won races, the youngest driver to ever win a race in ARCA. He's run at some tough tracks. He doesn't back down-he's pretty aggressive. He outran Frank on his own turf here and wasn't afraid to lean on him to do it. A lot of people are. So, you know, that goes a long way. I'd like to see him stay around another year because I enjoy racing with him. I think he'll make it. I think he'll probably do a Busch or Truck deal next year and probably be fairly successful at it. Will he win a race? It depends on the team he's with. He's probably capable of winning a race on a short track, you know, a Memphis or a St. Louis, or somewhere like that."
You just can't buy words like that-you have to earn them.