11/14/2016 - 10:43:20 AM
by DTD

The 2016 is a season that Duane Howard would soon like to forget. Although most drivers would love to have a season with eight total wins, it wasn’t what a driver of Howard’s caliber had hoped for going into the year. The driver out of Oley, Pa., started out the season driving for the powerful Mike Petruska and Sons Atlas Paving #66 team with their fleet of Teo’s and Billy the Kid Performance Engines powered Modifieds. The season started out on a good note with the team picking up a some early season wins at both Grandview and Bridgeport but the team suffered a mid-season slump prompting them to switch up their Saturday night racing venue in June. Despite picking up a couple more wins the team never seemed to hit their stride and after a dismal performance in the $10,000 to win “Forrest Rogers” Memorial race at Grandview in early August the team decided to make a driver change leaving Howard searching for Saturday night ride.

Enter Norm Hansell! Howard, who had been driving for the legendary owner of the #357’s on Friday nights at Big Diamond Speedway, was offered a second #357 car to drive as a teammate to Brett Kressley at Grandview. After fielding some other offers Howard decided to accept the offer from Hansell to keep his season going. Hansell who also fielded a car for DIRTcar champion Matt Sheppard on occasion also let Howard drive his open small block and big block car for balance of the season.

After a slow start, the team made the needed adjustments to make Howard feel comfortable after switching from driving a Teo Chassis to a Bicknell Chassis.  The team started to gel and put together some good finishes. They picked up a much needed win at Grandview late in the season and culminated their year with a win last Friday in the small-block race at Georgetown Speedway and by winning the 40-lap big-block finale at Bridgeport Speedway passing Richie Pratt Jr right at the start/finish line to take the win.

“I can’t thank Norm (Hansell) enough for what he has done for me this year.” Howard explained, “When the #66 team decided to go in another direction I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but Norm really stepped it up for me and provided with some great equipment to run. It took us a little while to sort it all out but we’ve really found something these past couple of weeks. My brothers, my nephew, Norm Hansell and his crew have worked really, really hard to make this work for me. We built this car in about a month which is hard to do when you are still racing two nights a week and we were able to do that. The last time we were here we missed it a little bit but tonight we were able to put in the car what we needed to get the job done.”

For Howard it was the perfect way to cap off his tumultuous season and to give the driver a much needed boost going into the off-season.

“It really is special to get a win in each of the last two weeks, especially here (Bridgeport). I love racing here and this really put an exclamation point on my season. A lot of people said I was washed up and my head wasn’t in it, you know all the rumors that were started. I want to race, I am a determined racer and this will carry into 2017 for sure. I am determined to win races and hopefully the last couple of weeks have shown that. I am just as determined to prove those people wrong and I will.”

Howard was fast all night but Richie Pratt was a little faster for most of the second half of the race.  He seemed to have the race in hand until a late race restart put Howard back on his bumper. Howard was able to grab the lead back on the restart only to have Pratt muscle his way by a lap later through turns one and two to grab the lead back. Only this time Howard never let him get away.  He caught him and made the last lap pass to bring home the checkered flag.

“He (Pratt) got by me earlier and then his car started to smoke pretty bad so I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  I tried to lag back a little and save my tires and that last restart he gave me the bottom.  I knew we had to go. This car was a rocket on the restarts.  I knew I had to get up on the wheel and drive it a little harder so I was able to get by him. He was able to get back by me with a slide job in one and took my nose away. After that I was able to stay with him and I knew my car was better between turns three and four and I was able to get under him there on the last lap. Once I got even with I knew I had to break his momentum coming off the top so I could out drag him down the front. I knew I had to break his draft somehow and we touched a little bit and that broke his momentum so I could beat him to the line. Like I said earlier, I wanted to win this race really bad and did what I needed to do to get the win. Richie Pratt is a professional racer and he came over to me afterwards to congratulate me.  We talked about it and I would expect the same thing back from him if I was in the other seat.”

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