It's an event that predates the existence of any of the PASS tours, the existence of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the Modified Racing Series. It draws hundreds of entries through the gates of Star Speedway (NH) every October, yet it's also an event that many race fans have never heard of.
It is the Halloween Howler and thanks to an 11th hour change of track promoters, it is an event that was able to take place on this past Saturday despite the fact that Star Speedway sat idle for nearly the entire 2011 racing season. The Webber family brought the track, and the Howler, back from the crypt though in true Halloween fashion.
You won't find the Halloween Howler on the schedule of any touring series and you won't find any expensive Super Late Models or Modifieds anywhere near the track (although there was an Outlaw Sportsman feature on the racing card this weekend). The cars that are entered into the headlining events of the night were prepared using hammers and crowbars instead of surface plates and bump-steer gauges. Although there are several classes of “real” racecars that take part in the Howler, the big two races are four-cylinder and “Grand” Enduros for full-sized six and eight cylinder cars.
The Enduro concept is simple. Cars straight off the road get to do a little bit of racing before they head to the crusher. The rules are basic too - all glass except the windshield needs to be removed, bumpers need to be chained up, doors need to be chained or welded, anti-freeze needs to be replaced by as much water as possible and a hole needs to be cut into the hood to spot any fires. Drivers need to wear a helmet and long sleeves, but nothing else. Roll cages, window nets, racing harnesses, firesuits and even HANS devices are a good idea, but not mandatory by any means.
Who won? Who knows? Who cares? The event is so crazy that it is hard to keep track of who even races, much less where they finish. Each entry is required to have a scorer and their scorecards are checked against what the track scorers have figured out. All of the scorers definitely have their work cut out for them.
Although an official car count was not released by the track, there were over 120 cars that started the four-cylinder enduro and approximately 100 that ran the Grand Enduro. Getting to the finish wasn't easy. Six cars finished the 150-lap four-cylinder race and just over a dozen were still running when the Grand event was cut short due to curfew at 100 laps. That event had been scheduled to go 200 laps in length.
The enduro races of the Halloween Howler do not have any caution periods. There is green flag racing and red flags for exceptionally dangerous situations. Generally, a car needs to be either upside down, on fire, leaking fuel or containing a driver who could be injured to bring about a red flag. Any of the regular reasons for a yellow flag don't otherwise apply here. Park yourself against the wall? Too bad. Stuck in the middle of the track backwards and looking at oncoming traffic? So sad. Debris on the track? Well, it might be harder after a few laps to find someplace on the track without debris.
Some drivers see that red flag as being optional, although those scofflaws are sometimes tossed out of the race for the night. The first red flag came out on the fourth lap of the four-cylinder enduro for a car that exited the racing surface and ended up in the woods off the backstretch. It seemed to take another four laps of red to get all of the drivers stopped.
And while the actual finishing order from the Halloween Howler isn't important, the stories from the race definitely are entertaining. You will see things at the Howler that you are never likely to see happen again in racing….at least until the next year's event. Here are a few of the “highlight moments of the 2010 Halloween Howler:
- As teams were pulled onto the track to line up for the four-cylinder enduro, one car decided to start doing pre-race doughnuts in turn four. The car featured about a dozen pumpkins on it and those pumpkins went all over the place during his little show. Track workers then took all of the pumpkins that rolled into the infield and smashed them onto the track.
- At the start of the four-cylinder enduro, a Volvo wagon failed to fire. The car sat in the middle of the track in turn four, where it was lined up during the Formula One-style start of the race, for several laps. Finally, another car slammed into its rear end. The momentum from the hit allow the Volvo driver to dump the clutch and get his car started and into the race, several laps down.
- Several teams with touring short track ties were in the pits for the Howler either fielding entries or providing pit support. Kevin Stuart's Modified Racing Series team was there along with the partial teams of Late Model driver Wayne Helliwell, PASS North driver Matt Frahm, PASS Modified champion Andy Shaw and the #88 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East entry driven by Jody Lavender.
- With hundreds of racecars coming into the pits, only the most basic safety rules are enforced before the races. That leaves room for some big-time cheating to take place in the mechanical department. The biggest violations this year might have been the appearance of several six-cylinder cars in the four-cylinder enduro. It wasn't going to take Ricky Brooks to catch some of those blatant violations in post-race tech.
- During the red flag periods, drivers of disabled cars were allowed the chance to get out and make their way back to the pit areas. Their racecars had to stay where they were though. This created quite a foot race during race flag periods, when drivers would run like hell from cars all over the quarter-mile track to the nearest exit.
- A decades-old Mercedes sedan with a school bus sign on the roof appeared during the middle stages of the four-cylinder race and stayed out there though the end of the Grand Enduro. The car had Vermont plates and lights, along with a big “School Bus” sign on the roof. At first, it looked like this car might have snuck onto the track, as it was black-flagged for several laps, but then it became clear that he might have been sanctioned by the track as a type of roadside assistance. The Mercedes pushed several cars off the track surface throughout the night, but also took several direct hits in the process.
- The Woody's Auto Repair team had nine entries in the race, while another unnamed team brought a total of 16 cars for the races. These megateams used tow trucks and tractor-trailers to get all of their cars to the track.
- Have you ever seen someone do a bump and run on a full-sized limo? Well, that was one of the occurrences in the Grand Enduro.
- Some of the more unusual entries into the Grand Enduro were a pair of hearses and a pair of full-sized vans, one of which was dubbed the “Roll Over Express”.
- While there were many Cadillacs, Lincolns, Crown Victorias and Caprices in the Grand Enduro, there were some pretty racy cars out there as well turning much quick lap times. A few Camaros and “metric” Monte Carlos that appeared to get a weekend pass from the Street Stock retirement home were in the race.
- Only six cars finished the four-cylinder enduro. Normally, you see a race winner perform a burnout. But just finishing this race was victory enough, so all six finishers lined up with their noses against the fronstretch wall after the race and did burnouts for the crowd.
- PASS Modified Championship car owner Dave Weir entered the Grand Enduro as a driver. He missed the green flag though after someone switched on the interior lights of his Buick before the race and drained the battery. After Weir flagged down a passing pick-up truck hauling a four-cylinder enduro car out of the track, he got a jump-start and entered the race a few laps down. Missing those opening laps proven a blessing, as Weir was one of about 15 drivers to make it to the finish of the race.
- Among the entries in the Grand Enduro was a former Massachusetts State Police cruiser than still featured the trademark Electric Blue/French Blue two-tone paint scheme of the MSP.
- Late Model driver Steve Dickey, who has compete on occasion on the ACT Late Model Tour, ran the Rookie Stock race and won it. He's no stranger to success at the Howler and is also a previous winner of the four-cylinder race.
- The crowd at Star was very strong for this year's Howler. Cars were parked all of the way out to Route 27 and fans had plenty of company when leaving the parking lots at the end of the night.
- After the races were over, many competitors simply left their cars behind at the track. Cars are then sold as scrap metal by the track to help the bottom line.
- For more of the crazy cars of the Halloween Howler, be sure to check out the Speed51.com Facebook page for a full photo gallery.