Charlie Ray Howell is racing for those who can’t in 2015.
The 23-year racing veteran first began piloting a vehicle when he was just 10 years old, stepping behind the wheel of a go-kart.
He drove for years until he suffered a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident on March 12, 2010. But rather than his life stopping, Howell just considered it a speed bump, if you will.
“I took time off after my wreck,” he said. “When I was in the hospital, I told my dad I wanted to get back in my race car. He told me he just wanted to get me out of the hospital first.”
Getting back into the race car was a no-brainer for Howell. In 2011, he got behind the wheel of a Street Stock car, proving he could do anything he set his mind to.
He got behind the wheel of a Late Model; and in 2014, he started off the year with that long-awaited victory.
Making the right modifications to adapt his car to be driven by hand controls with the help of another fellow paralyzed race car driver, Mark Dowdy, Howell was ready to tackle the power of the Late Model. After spending the better part of year of adapting and learning the new style of driving, Howell was ready to compete and traveled to a race track in Tuscumbia, Ala. to take on racers there.
Howell entered the 602 Crate Late Model division at the North Alabama Speedway on April 12, 2014. Having not raced at the track since his injury, Howell was determined to mix it up with his fellow racers. He started in fifth position in a heat race, and with luck and some smart driving, made it to the front of the pack with two laps to spare.
Over the years, Howell has collected 50 career wins. He won his first tract championship when he was just 15 years old and has 19 wins and was the track champion in 2001.
In 2014, Howell finished fifth in points at Duck River Raceway Park, received the most improved driver award and the People’s Choice Award at Duck River.
“They gave the People’s Choice Award for each class and then one for the whole track,” Howell said. “I won the one for the whole track.”
He races at Duck River, but said he’s game for any dirt track.
“I’ll race anywhere,” he said. “But I really like the Duck. I do love to travel though.”
Howell has a graphics business on the side, where he makes graphics for other drivers and fans.
Not only is he paralyzed, but he also has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), Type 1, otherwise known as “brittle bone disease.”
“Over the years, I’ve broken more than 70 bones,” he said. “Last year, I broke my finger, but I still raced.”
That might not seem like a big deal, but, being paralyzed, Howell relies on his hands to control everything in the car.
Having OI has led Howell to host a 5K every year in Mt. Pleasant for the Osteogenisis Imperfecta Foundation. This year, the event, known as the “Unbreakable Spirit 5K” took place May 16 at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center, 501 Gray Lane in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn.
This is the second year for the event. For those who dress as a Super Hero, the registration fee was just $5, a discount of 50 percent off the regular price.. He’s trying to raise awareness for OI, and said he does the race for kids. That’s why he encourages people to dress up as Superman, Spiderman or Wonder Woman. For more information on the race, call (931) 982-5927.
Howell said, “I don’t let anything hold me down. I know the consequences when I get into the car. I like giving other people inspiration and telling people not to give up, to keep pushing forward. Some people ask why I still do it. I tell them, ‘it’s for the love of it.’”
In 2015, Howell’s motto is he’s “racing for those who can’t.”
“The biggest thing is if you’re having a hard time, come to me,” he said. “Don’t give up. It’s not the end of the world. Push yourself as far as you want to go. If you think of it and set your mind to it, you can do anything you want.”
Howell has seen good days and bad days. Still, very little gets him down.
“Depression never hit, never,” he said of his emotions after the accident.” There’s good days and bad days, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like rainy days.”
Howell said he has good support from his family and friends, but his wife, Anna, “is my backbone. There was a time last year, when it was just me and her at the track. Some nights it was just me. Robert Stutts (big and little Robert) helped me out a lot. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have done as well as I did.”
In addition to the Stutts, Howell said he gets help from Jeff Stuffs, Danny Howell, Cody Cook, Josh Spangler and Jimmy Ray Mathis. His friend Josh Plant, also a paraplegic, is his PR person and is an important person on his team.
Howell would also like to thank his wife, Anna, “for all her support and dedication.”
Howell’s sponsors are: A-1 Towing & Recovery, Dan’s Collision Center, JPMotorsports Promotions and ER Bodies.
Howell said he’s happy with what he’s doing.
“I’m doing the best I can with what I have and I’m making the most of it,” he said.