Larry Sowers – Builder/Track Official

By Chad Meyer

Larry Sowers Gene Schattschneider

Larry Sowers (center) stands next to the newly constructed Honsbruch Drug modified with driver, the late Gene Schattschneider (right). Sowers is a 2013 inductee into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame.

Photo caption: Larry Sowers (center) stands next to the newly constructed Honsbruch Drug modified with driver, the late Gene Schattschneider (right). Sowers is a 2013 inductee into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame.

Larry Sowers’ indoctrination to the sport of auto racing first came at the historic half-mile track located in Webster City, IA. Growing up in Story City, the Sower’s clan made frequent trips to the Hamilton County Fairgrounds to take in the IMCA big-car (sprint car) races.

He was seemingly hooked for life after that first visit to the track. He remembers watching the open sprints and midgets plus the 200-lap stock car races of the day. “I watched them all. I loved hearing the cars drive to the track, which they often did then” Sowers recalls.

“I didn’t have much time for the horse races though. They didn’t make enough noise or go fast enough for me,” said Sowers.

A new job at Percival Motors led him to the Algona area. It was perhaps trips to the then Fort Dodge track, Sports Park Raceway that introduced him to the innovative side of racing.

“I hung around Irv Hutchinson, Bob and Dean Flaws. Harold Anderson was really ahead of him time, competing with his 1932 Chevy truck”, he recalls.

Ultimately, Sowers began lending a hand on the orange colored Honsbruch Drug car, then driven by Larry Cook.

larry sowers

Larry Sowers welding up headers for the #56.

“I was working on Dutch’s (Honsbruch) car that Cook drove. About the same time, Gene Schattschneider started racing a ’36 Chevy with the number 36 on the side, recalls Sowers.” At the end of 1961, Schattschneider sold the 36 to Dean Schroeder and proclaimed he was out of the sport.

Over the winter of the next season, Sowers helped build another orange #56 Honsbruch Drug car, with Cook still the driver. Early in the season however, Cook wrecked the car and decided to step away from driving.

Once Sowers and the crew repaired the car, they needed a driver to race in Dayton on Friday. Les Wildin filled the seat for the night, but was unavailable for Saturday’s events in Algona. Just when it looked like there was no one to get behind the wheel, fate seemed to intervene.

Schattschneider made a well-timed visit to the garage and quickly volunteered to drive. Soon began an association Sowers is most known for, being one part of the mechanical genius that propelled Schattschneider and Honsbruch to legendary racing status.

Throughout Schattschneider’s time in the Honsbruch Drug ride, Sowers helped construct several cars.

“We built most of them in Bob Post’s big garage. Nobody ever bothered us much there,” says Sowers. The Hurn and Arndorfer car was only a block away. “They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them.”

He also said there never a clock on the wall. “We spent a lot of time there, but we didn’t need a clock. We knew what time it was by when certain members of our group stopped by. And the meat train always went by at 10:00 at night.” They always knew they had about one more hour of work to do, when the train passed, he recalls.

While they may not have been the first to stumble upon the latest technical innovations, Sowers excelled at working the ‘gray area’ of the rule book. “I remember Leo Christensen had his modified engine set-back with at least two cylinders behind the firewall. He was so dominant for a while.”

Larry Sowers

Larry Sowers stands next to one of his later creations

Promoter Lamont Wellendorf created a rule stating the engine had to sit in front of the firewall. Sowers determined that it didn’t say you couldn’t move the firewall back, thus affording the engine to be set back as well, gaining a performance advantage.

Sowers says that he has a lot of great memories from the sport. Being creative in building and racing cars is what he is most proud of. “We were running a 261 cubic inch (CI) Chevrolet six-cylinder engine. Standard cylinder boring punched that number up to 278 CI. We figured out that if you made the cylinder walls bigger and used pistons from a Model A, we could get up to 288 CI.”

It wasn’t just engine displacement and set-back tricks of the trade. Sowers remembers one car that needed to increase weight transfer to the left rear of the car. Sowers and Schattschneider figured out that the Chevy frame they were using had plenty of flex in it.

“No problem,” said Sowers. “We put four tires on the car, flattened the right front tire and got the frame flexed where we wanted and welded it up.” With air in all the tires, the car naturally transferred more weight where it was needed.

When Honsbruch quit fielding cars, Sowers went his own way. He sold tires and fuel and lent a hand when Schattschneider returned to racing in the 1980’s, and needed help with the handling of the car.

He went on to build stock cars for Dave and Denny Penning, again finding success with both on the track. He also made and sold pre-fabricated roll cage kits.

Larry Sowers

Larry Sowers’ vintage car.

Sowers was also a track official after the Honsbruch years. He worked for Algona promoter Dwight Cook plus Dick Simpson at the Alta track and for Jim Edgington when he was the promoter at Fairmont.

In 1994 he moved to Des Moines. The racing bug bit again and in 2006 he completed a vintage race car and competed at tracks in Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The highlight he says was winning on his birthday a few years ago.

Sowers suffered multiple broken ribs and a broken right hand, the result of a harrowing crash in a vintage car race at the Iowa State Fair Speedway in Des Moines last year.

When asked for his favorite memory from racing, he answered quickly. “The night Leonard Pesicka went over the wall and into the chicken coop off the track, he said.”

“The track was muddy and we had on the wrong tires. The race was stopped and we couldn’t go to the pits and were not supposed to change anything on the car. I told Schattschneider that we weren’t going to win this way so let’s change the tires to something else. So, we did, right in front of the grandstand. Everyone was watching them retrieve Pesicka from the chick coop, and never paid attention to us.”

When the race resumed, the change worked and they ended the night in victory lane.

Today, Sowers is rebuilding his vintage race car and is semi-retired from his asbestos removal company. He remains active in the Moose Lodge organization, where he has been a member for 40 years and is past administrator of the Moose Lodge in Des Moines, IA.

Larry Sowers joins five others as 2013 inductees into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place Saturday, August 3rd at Algona Raceway.