By Mike Henle
Legendary Las Vegas PR guy KJ Howe turns 76 in February. He still plays ice hockey and he flies annually to Europe to go snow skiing each January.
And when he’s not involved in any of previously mentioned activities, Howe is Professor of Yeastology at Grape Expectations in Henderson teaching classes about the wine making process to people who want to make a barrel of wine.
Sitting on a porch watching cars pass by isn’t something he wants any part of; and imagining the grey-haired hustler on a river bank somewhere waiting for the next fish to bite is also out of the picture.
A former three tour veteran of Vietnam when he was in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s, adventure has been a part of Howe’s life for decades. A devout Republican, he is opinionated, well-schooled and not the least-bit afraid to tell his feelings about most anything (or anyone) ranging from Jane Fonda to pompous politicians and bureaucrats.
If it is opinions you want, the energetic Howe gladly lets you know that he detests Fonda’s criticizing of the U.S. in Vietnam; Harry Reid is a Democrat; and the BLM is on the verge of ruining many forms of outdoor recreation including off-road racing, which Howe served as race director of the Mint 400 from 1970-85.
An influential member of the motorsports fraternity, the man has been interviewed extensively on radio, television and in print about a myriad of topics; and especially auto racing. The list of accomplishments is long, and among his favorite participations have been the Caesars Palace Grand Prix from 1981-84, the Vegas Grand Prix in 2007; and the rejuvenated Mint 400 that was brought back to Las Vegas by the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) before being resurrected by brothers Matt and Josh Martelli a few years ago.
During his days with the original Mint 400, Howe talked then-mayor Oran Gragson into providing permission to shut down Fremont Street for the Mint tech inspection.
“There were many naysayers who said I couldn’t get Fremont Street closed for tech inspection,” recalled Howe. “Mint Hotel Vice President and General Manager Jess Hinkle told me to explore the idea and see if I could get it done.”
By no surprise, Howe got Fremont Street shut down in what became a popular part of the Mint 400.
“The Clark County School District called every year because it knew that kids would skip school for the Mint 400 tech inspection,” Howe recalled. “It became a part of downtown Las Vegas.”
In addition, he helped with the Vegas Grand Prix in 2007; and Howe also was a member of the Founders Club that orchestrated the Las Vegas Invitational Golf Tournament. He was named Volunteer of the Year in 2000.
Long-time automobile dealer Jim Marsh arrived in Southern Nevada in 1971 and he has known Howe since then.
“He’s a dandy,” Marsh said of Howe, who was one of the founders of Cooper, Burch and Howe Advertising and Public Relations, a Southern Nevada powerhouse back in the 1970s and 1980s. “I will never forget when he used to run the Mint 400. He’d work two or three days without sleep setting up the race and then get into his buggy and race in it.”
Marsh says it all when he added “You gotta love him. He’s the closest thing to the Energizer Bunny that I have ever known.”
One thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that nobody has trouble finding people who admire Howe for his efforts as a true PR person.
“I really wish more of the younger people in our industry would take the time to get to know KJ and learn from him,” said George McCabe, PR director at B&P Advertising, Media and Public Relations. “I will never forget how KJ met Hunter S. Thompson when KJ was race director of the Mint 400. I have heard a few stories about those days and that always impressed me.”
Milo Kostelecky, the director of the Las Vegas Film Festival, has been friends with Howe for his entire life. Now 38, he speaks highly of his long-time friend.
“KJ is just energetic, charismatic and he’s very original,” said Kostelecky. “He is full of wit; he’s very honest and genuine. The combination of his attributes makes him an amazing pleasure to be around.
“Those around him appreciate life because KJ lives his life to the fullest. They benefit greatly from his charm.”
Kostelecky added that Howe continues to live his youth.
“He’s living youth in a perpetual stage; and you could never imagine him doing anything else. KJ is simply a very addictive personality.”
Long-time Las Vegan Judi Moreo echoed others who praise Howe.
“I had the honor of presenting the fashion shows for KJ’s event at the Mint 400,” said Moreo. “He is a true professional to work with, a super nice human being and a wonderful friend. He has remained my friend all of these years because he is a really good person who is kind, trustworthy and fun!”
Curt Thompson, who like Howe is a former Del Webb executive, also had praise for his old friend.
“KJ is a legend in motorsports,” said Thompson, now the general manager of Railroad Pass in Henderson and the Gold Strike in Jean. “He is one of the few that dedicated his marketing skills towards making off road racing a world wide phenomenon.”
Howe arrived in Las Vegas to play golf in 1970 and he hasn’t left since.
‘I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” he says now.
To Howe, what he does is a very natural part of his persona. He seems to be on stage no matter what he’s doing at the time.
“I just like to have fun,’ said Howe. “There is fun in everything and sometimes you just have to work to find it.
“My motto has always been ‘I would rather live than just exist.’ Fun has always been a part of my life. In fact, I have never forgotten how to be a kid again.” +