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Meet the Crew: Joe Howard

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Joe Howard

Meet the Crew: Joe Howard

Tom Blattler
Ed Carpenter Racing
May 25, 2013

Joe Howard
May 25th 2013 - JOE HOWARD, Damper Engineer

How did you get your first start in racing?
"I grew up in Illinois and I didn’t actually know anybody in IndyCar. My dad would take me over to IMS all the time ever since I was kid and I decided at a young age I wanted to be a part of it. I decided engineering was the way to go for me and went to Purdue. Since I didn’t’ know anybody, I literally banged on doors and passed out resumes for years before I finally got a break. Believe it or not, my first job was driving a golf cart between the hospitality suite and hospitality bus for Jonathan Byrd Racing. They paid me 50 bucks a day and I thought I was rich. I did that for the month of May. About a year later I got an internship with the Auto Research Center at Reynard. I actually interned for Derrick Walker in the summer of 2000. Once the door got opened it stayed open so that was good. I got on with Andretti in January of 2004. I started out as a dag and damper guy for Dario Franchitti for three years. I worked with Tony Kanaan for two years and then my role got redone and I was damper department manager so I worked with all the drivers.”

What are your special memories from those years?
"Dan Wheldon won an Indy 500, Dario Franchitti won an Indy 500, and even though I wasn’t on their specific cars, you have to appreciate the fact that you’re a part of a team that made that happen. I think the older I get, the more I appreciate that. At the time I was assigned to other cars so you’re focused on yours, but the older I get, I can take value in those team wins. I qualified on the front row with my cars twice (Franchitti 2004, Kanaan 2007) and that was just a really neat experience. As a kid, when you see who is on the front row at Indy, it was Mears, Mario, Foyt, Unser, Sullivan. To know you got up there with those guys, for me, it was pretty neat.”

What exactly do you do at Ed Carpenter Racing?
"My title is damper engineer. Dampers are shock absorbers. I work with Lead Engineer Matt Barnes probably the most on developing our program and that encompasses everything from the building of the dampers to ideas on what we should do to how we want to spend our budget. I take care of, build, develop, and test the dampers. I try to give Matt advice and listen to all of Ed’s comments and give Matt feedback on what I hear and think. I give him as much information as I can so he can make a final decision on what we should do.”

Do you want to move into the race engineering side?
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. There are certain aspects that really interest me. When we’re making changes to the car, I love that. It’s such a challenge. But I’m also a hands-on guy and this role allows me to do both. The opportunity has come up and I’m still standing where I’m at and I’m OK with that so far.”

What is your observation about how Ed Carpenter Racing works?
"I’ll tell you what, every team has a culture and the culture over here is good, as simple as that. It’s a good place. It’s a good environment to try to engineer a car. Ed sets that culture. Matt Barnes sets that culture. Team Manager Tim Broyles sets it, but then again we all do as well. I think we all know that and we all unconsciously try to do things the way we think it should be done and I think it’s one of the strongest things we have on this team – an openness to discuss things and make things better. It should not be rare, but it is rare.”

How is Ed as an owner?
"When I think of Ed the owner, it’s in the shop in the winter time. At the track, Ed’s a driver and that’s how I see it. He’s very focused on that. When it comes to a driver/crew relationship, it doesn’t get much better than working with Ed in my book. I can’t ask for much more.”

What is the toughest part of the job on you?
"Every team is different on what you consider the toughest part of your job. I think on this team, ironically it’s a blessing, but the toughest part is making sure that we give Ed everything he needs and more, especially here at Indy. We want to extract everything we can for Ed that he might need for the last lap come race day. It’s not exactly tough, it’s just pressure we put on ourselves.”

What are your first memories of the Indianapolis 500?
"I have so many. My parents would bring me over in a stroller on Pole Day. My dad’s excuse to me all those years for not letting me come to the race was that I wasn’t tall enough. I don’t know if he really thought I wasn’t tall enough or if he was really trying to get me to appreciate it before he allowed me to come. He and my mom have had the same tickets for 35 years. In 1991, I stayed at my grandma’s house while my mom and dad went to the race. Rick Mears won his fourth and he was my favorite so I was pretty irritated. My dad got home and I said, that’s it, I’m going in 1992. So 1992 was the first time I got to watch the race.”

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