Henry "Howdy" Williams was born January 24, 1937, in Omaha, NE, to Leone Maurer Williams and Henry Laurens Williams III and graduated from Central High School in 1955. He married Carole Ann Hodge in 1960, and they had two daughters, Christine and Sally.
His interest in cars began at an early age and increased, as he grew older. When he turned 16, he wanted a 1940 Ford. His father, however, thought he should have a ‘new’ 1953 Ford Hardtop, so that’s what he received.
Howdy picked up the ‘new car’ in the morning, and by the afternoon had dismantled the entire engine. When his father arrived home from the office the car engine was strewn all over the garage floor. A bit of a shock for him, for sure.
A few days later Howdy had the engine back together with the changes he wanted. And, of course, it ran much better than it did upon arrival at the dealer! So the stage was set for racing.
In approximately 1955 he went to the Bonneville Salt Flats to observe the Land Speed Trials. This helped foster his lifelong fascination with speed.
Howdy began his involvement in the sport of drag racing in the mid 1950s. As was the ‘norm’ in those days, most of the racing was street racing done in isolated areas. His official drag racing career started in 1954 as he raced a B dragster until he switched to an AA fuel dragster four years later “because there is no excitement in anything else.”
The highlight of Howdy’s career may well have come at Phoenix, AZ, in 1964 as he won the Class C event for fuel dragsters at the Drag Racing Winter Championships with a run of 181.80 mph.
The trip to and from Phoenix was another matter. It seems that Howdy had completely rebuilt the engine in his 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood prior to the trip, incorporating some race tricks, such as lighter valves. George Crowe and Dave Sweney drove the truck containing fuel, tires, etc., while Howdy and Hoot Gibson took the Cadillac with dragster in tow. By the time they arrived in Phoenix, the engine in the Cadillac was missing because of valve train failure. The group made repairs at a friends shop and then proceeded to have great success at the track.
On the return trip about 70 miles out of Socorro, NM, a rod starting knocking. The group pulled the spark plug from that cylinder, hooked the dragster behind the truck and made it to Socorro where they decided they needed to fix the problem.
Not being able to get proper repair parts from Albuquerque, getting very tired of Socorro, and with Howdy getting very upset, Dave Sweney grabbed the rod and piston causing the problem and went to the local gas station, where he cut the rod off just above the rod journal, took it back to the car, where George and Dave cut a beer can the size of a rod bearing, took the bad bearing and creased it to the crank and wrapped the beer can around the bearing and clamped what was left of the rod around the crank. They put the engine back together and blocking the intake port so fuel could not get into the crankcase, started the engine. They had oil pressure and no noise, with 7 cylinders working well.
They took off, and though Howdy was nervous at first and drove under 50mph, after awhile he was pushing 70. When they stopped for gas, they put the dragster behind the Cadillac and returned to Omaha without further problems. In fact, Howdy drove the car in that condition until the following spring before fixing it.
Another of his top accomplishments had to be defeating defending AHRA Winternationals champion and future drag racing legend Tom Hoover in a best-of-three match race at the Omaha Dragway in 1965. Howdy ran E.T’s of 8.26 and 8.27 seconds in winning the first two races. Hoover gained some consolation in winning the third run.
Howdy won many top eliminator and match race honors throughout the Midwest, winning races at Omaha Dragway, Kearney Dragway, Des Moines Dragway, Lincoln Dragways, Neita Dragway in Waterloo, Iowa, Fort Dodge Dragway and other locations.
He was a many-time record holder at the Omaha, Kearney, Des Moines, Sioux City and Lincoln Dragways, to just name a few. His career top runs included 227 mph at the Kearney Dragway and 223 mph+ at the Sioux City Dragway.
During his drag racing days, Howdy worked for Bill Chase at Chase Automotive for five years and owned a transmission repair shop with Dave Sweney for 10 years.
Many viewed Howdy as cocky and arrogant, and while Howdy liked to be in the limelight, he was a great and loyal friend to those with whom he was close. A friend and business associate Sweney said, “Howdy stuck by my side when I was having some big problems.”
Howdy Williams liked living on the edge, as his other interests and hobbies included skydiving, motorcycle riding, hockey and miles and miles of water skiing.
In 1979, Howdy was involved in a motorcycle accident, caused by a driver running a stop sign and crossing 2 lanes of traffic. This resulted in his death. He was 42 years old.