Behind the Laptop: Howden Media Group Celebrates 25 Years
Silver anniversary for Rob Howden launching karting media company
Rob Howden set to announce his 26th SuperNationals and celebrate 25 years of HMG (Photo: On Track Promotions - otp.ca)
The month of November is here, and that means it is time for the largest karting event in the world – the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals. It has been a busy two weeks in the EKN office, producing our exclusive SKUSA SuperNationals 26 Preview Series to provide you the readers with what to expect, who the big names are, and what we anticipate happening leading up to SuperSunday outside the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This month also marks the anniversary for eKartingNews owner and publisher Rob Howden launching his own company to provide media coverage for the sport of karting.
It was in 1998 that Howden was the editor of National Kart News after working with other media outlets prior to finding a home with the Indiana-based magazine. It was then after a two-year stint that Howden elected to leave his position with the company to establish something new and unique. With little money in the bank, Howden hit the phone to work his connections within the karting industry to help build up enough advertising funds to establish a new media outlet – Shifter Kart Illustrated.
Howden Communications Inc. was established with seven issues locked in for the end of 1998 and through the 1999 season, with a focus on shifterkart racing in North American and around the world. The focal point of the new spread was supporting the new SKUSA ProMoto Tour led by the late Jim Murley. The magazine helped to build the stars of the new championship program, breaking down the SuperPro divisions with complete driver by driver details from each race weekend. Race reports covering the other categories involved in SKUSA ProMoto Tour, helping to build up those rising stars coming up the ranks along with the future of the sport in the Junior ranks, and build up the shifterkart programs around North America.
The magazine became the narrative of the sport here in the United States, helping to define the current stars of the sport. Many stars we have or currently see in the professional ranks of motorsports were highlighted in the pages of Shifter Kart Illustrated – Memo Gidley, Scott Speed, AJ Allmendinger, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens, and many more. It also helped to define the amazing karting careers of those who were champions of the sport, including Alan Rudolph, Ron White, Jason LaPoint, Kyle Martin, Bobby Wilson, Wesley Boswell, Alex Speed, Alan Sciuto, Jason Bowles and dozens more.
The launch of the magazine came in November 1998 at the SKUSA SuperNationals 2 held at the X-Plex facility at the south end of the Las Vegas region. The first driver to be featured on the cover of Shifter Kart Illustrated was Canadian driver Michael Valiante. The inaugural issue also included details and race report from the only shifterkart world championship held on USA soil – the 1998 FMK / FIA Formula C World Karting Championships. Many people dove in with Howden to help establish a new publication, including ‘Assistant Editor’ Jeff Deskins. He along with family and friends were there to help launch the magazine, which was a major hit in the paddock and continued for many years.
Howden Communications grew in the years to come, welcoming two other magazine brands – Speedway USA and Formula Car Magazine. For multiple years, Howden visited the WKA Kart Fest show in the Carolinas, meeting several racers and industry members surrounding the dirt oval scene which led to the launch of that magazine. FCM was an expansion of SKI, helping to build the progression of open wheel drivers and their teams both in North America and around the world.
Throughout the early years of these magazines, several individuals – including writers, contributors, photographers, and office personnel helped HCI and its media outlets grow to what they were. I began my connection with Howden in my early 20’s, contacting him as a board member for the Michigan Kart Club looking for sponsorship toward our road racing program. While he is a tough salesman, he was an easy pull for me to land two class sponsorships for SKI at $500. That connection led to more communication, eventually providing race reports surrounding the road racing community for Shifter Kart Illustrated. In 2003, he invited me to join him on an RV road trip, traveling from Michigan down to Atlanta for a Big South Road Racing event at Road Atlanta, four days at the Sebring 12 Hours, and completed with a weekend at the SKUSA ProMoto Tour held in Jacksonville. It was my introduction to motorsports journalism and to the HCI family.
The SKI magazine went into a transition in 2004, which began at the Rock Island Grand Prix. The revised Super Kart Illustrated began and thankfully I was there with Howden and then SKI Editor Tim Blaney to help with the launch. A few months later, Howden offered me the chance to be part of something new for the company, taking over the ownership of eKartingNews and offering me a full-time position with the new Howden Media Group.
As we head to the SKUSA SuperNationals 26, it marks the 19th anniversary of working with Howden and managing the webpages of EKN. He took me under his wings and provided me with the opportunity to turn my passion for karting into much more than a job. It has become my career and life’s work, with he and the many supporters of SKI and EKN providing me the opportunity to support a family as well. My family will celebrate my son’s 16th birthday on Tuesday before I fly out to Vegas (he’s the reason I missed the 2007 event).
None of it, and all the great events, trips, and memories made during that time would have been possible without the vision he had some 25 years ago. If not for those who supported Howden at the beginning, and those industry members who have and continue to support HMG over the last 25 years have helped make this journey possible – and allowing us to provide the best coverage of karting we can.
There are not many people who love this sport as much as I do, except Rob. Our many discussions about the sport, how we can present it, and just the love of competing make me filled with joy to know you are my karting wingman. It was a true honor to be able to help in the presentation of your induction into the Superkarts! USA Hall of Fame. Many will not understand the amount of passion and dedication you had in the early years of the SKUSA organization, and helping with the transition when the Kutsher family took over. There are many names that are synonymous with sporting events around the world. The SuperNationals will always be known because of your voice.
Congratulations Rob on an amazing 25 years for Howden Media Group and the many more to come doing what you love.