July 11, 2022
By Keaton Maisano
Sixty-eight years ago today, legendary motocross racer and AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Kent Howerton was born.
Nicknamed the “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Howerton found success throughout the ’70s and ’80s. By the time his professional career was over, Howerton was a three-time AMA Motocross champion and the winner of 32 Nationals.
Howerton, who was born July 11, 1954, in Kansas, spent most of his childhood not riding motorcycles. At age 15 Howerton learned to ride, and he got his first motorcycle — a 100cc Kawasaki Trail Boss — a year later.
After moving to San Antonio, Texas, Howerton was invited to a nearby motocross race by an older off-road rider who saw him riding his Kawasaki around the neighborhood.
Racing in the Expert class in his debut race, Howerton claimed third. Two races later, he won his first local event.
In 1974, Howerton continued his upward trajectory by claiming his first AMA National in the 250cc class in New Orleans aboard a Husqvarna. The season culminated in a sixth overall finish for Howerton in the AMA 250cc Motocross Championship standings.
The following year, Howerton signed his first factory contract with Husqvarna. Howerton finished second in the AMA 250cc Motocross Championship and fifth in the AMA 500cc Motocross Championship in 1975.
After knocking on the door for years, Howerton broke through in 1976 and secured the AMA 500cc Motocross Championship.
On Suzuki’s team in 1980, Howerton caught fire as he tallied 10 wins, three seconds and one third across the 14-moto, seven-race 250cc series. He emphatically capped his season by defending his Trans-USA title.
In AMA Supercross, Howerton claimed five victories and a career-high second place in the 1980 AMA Supercross standings.
His incredible season — albeit in the absence of AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Bob Hannah — earned him the distinction of AMA Pro Athlete of the Year in 1980.
In 1981, Howerton quieted the doubters by defending his AMA 250cc Motocross title — this time by outlasting Hannah.
Beyond motocross competition, the “Rhinestone Cowboy” played a pivotal role in the formation of Supermoto racing. He won the first made-for-television Superbikers competition at Carlsbad Speedway in 1979, then won the race again in 1984.
Howerton was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000.