By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
From making Soap Box Derby racing cars as a child with his father, to racing a top-of-the- line race car in the North State Challenge Series, Crescent City resident Howard Ford has had a long-time love affair with racing.
Heading into his third race of the NSCS at Shasta Raceway Park in Anderson on Saturday, Howard is currently sitting in first in the standings, more than 50 points ahead of his nearest competitor.
Ford, 50, said it's a nice feeling for him and his team to be doing so well. For him, it's great to still be racing well against those who are younger, and said it shows he still has what it takes to win races.
"We're just getting started," he said.
For several years, Ford has been racing cars from being on the drag racing and stock car circuits, to racing in the NASCAR North West and South West tours, as well as in the NSCS series racing on weekends. During the week, he runs his own auto body shop.
Racing from an early age
Ford said he started to get into racing as a child in Arcata. When he was around 8 years old, his dad, who worked at the local Ford auto dealership, helped him make his first soapbox racing car.
Many of his dad's friends from work would come around and help out, Ford said. Some of them told him that they'd give him a quarter if he won his first race and when he did, he remembered coming home with a pocket full of change.
"Everyone was so supportive," he said.
From then on, Ford said, he knew racing was something he always wanted to have in his life.
Family and friends
Another important part of his early years was the support of family and friends with his racing endeavors, which have carried on to this day, Ford said. His mother and father still attend every race they can, as well as other relatives. Recently, an uncle came from Texas to watch him race.
Even today, having his family and friends around when he races is important. Ford said his wife Dee and daughter Vanessa, 19, always come and cheer him on. His son Brandon, 14, has already shown interest in the sport and helps out, doing things like checking the tires.
"It's a family sport," Ford said. "They enjoy it and they love coming to the races and we have a big barbecue. It's just fun."
One his most memorable memories of racing came when he was not even behind the wheel. His father was.
Ford gave his dad, who by that point was in his 70s, a chance to race around a race track a few years ago.
He said it was a thrill to see the enjoyment his father got from that.
"When he got out of the car, he goes Shoot, I should have been doing this 50-something years ago,"' Ford said.
A good race crew
Ford is quick to thank his crew of five for all his successes, and said they go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure things run smoothly.
There is so much that goes into racing, especially the managing and maintenance of a car, that he said he could never do what he does without his crew.
"We have a great team," he said. "We wouldn't be at the top of the standings without them. They are key."
Since Ford was a kid, he has been close friends with Scott Spinas, who is his right hand man on his crew.
They both shared a love for cars and racing and Spinas has helped him through his racing endeavors through the years. Among many of his duties, it's his job to make sure things run smoothly and the team does its job to help Ford do well.
On Wednesday, Spinas could be seen hard at work, getting the vehicle ready for Saturday.
"It's just fun to do," he said about being part of the racing team. "But I wouldn't do it with anyone else... But it's a challenge. There's 17-18 other cars out there that can beat you."
Ford said he has always been impressed with his friend's expertise and the way he's able to get everyone on the same page to make sure the car is running at maximum velocity on race day, and the crew is a well-oiled machine finding ways to stay ahead of the competition.
Howard started the NSCS racing season with a second place finish at Redwood Acres Raceway in Eureka on April 2. On May 1, he placed first at the Altamont Motorsports Park in the Livermore area and won the race to claim the $2,000 winners share of the purse.
A goal for Ford and his team is to place in the top seven in the NSCS standings. In October, the top seven in the NSCS, as well as top finishers in other series in the region, from areas like Washington and Idaho, will race in Roseburg, Ore. Last year, Ford and his team finished 3rd in the NSCS.
Ford said he is looking forward to Saturday's race and said Shasta Raceway Park is one of his favorite places to race, although it's quite challenging.
When he first raced it, Ford said it gave him a lot of problems because it's flat on one end and then banks on the another end.
But, he said, a veteran driver who won more than 200 races at the track once told him a way to race the track that would be successful. From that point on, Ford said he has done well in Anderson.
For Ford, it's just special being able to get into his car and race
There are a lot of different factors that add up to making the experience a special one.
"I think it's got to do with the competition and the sounds of the engines and having my family watching me race," he said.