Jepson’s Land Speed Roadster. (Bob Jepson Collection)
Bob Jepson, the Land Speed Racer Next Door
It all seems so different. An alcohol funny
car at Gainesville, a Panther Team entry at the Brickyard, a
Wolfweld sprinter at Perris, a TQ at Atlantic City.
the variations, though, a racer is a racer.
There is such a
pattern to them. How many of us were imprinted with some small spark
(or germ) as a kid and have had it ignite into a fiery lifelong
Case in point – Bob Jepson, an
affable 59-year-old from Milton, Massachusetts. That moto-bug bit
him back in elementary school. He was intrigued by pieces car guys
brought to the family’s metal- finishing business. Then he found HOT
ROD magazine. It was all over. “I wasn’t paying any attention to
anything. In class I was drawing profiles of ’32 Fords.”
Bob’s handy, and he’s built a lot of kit. There’s been the stream of
’57 Chevys – and his house. But his focus was really channeled in
1986 when he first set eyes on the sands of Bonneville. The
technical challenge of land speed racing and the “amazing
camaraderie” of the competitors have consumed his hobby time ever
A decade ago he launched his current project “with a
’27 Ford cowl I had sittin’ around.” It’s now a land speed ‘street
roadster’ class machine, formed in that wonderfully classic pre-war
It’s beautiful. The frame rails are 2x4 square tubing,
cold bent to conform to the body. The cage is 1 ¾ od, 1/8 wall.
The propulsion part has become more challenging. “When I started
the car, the record for the class was around 142mph. Then came the
computers, turbos, and intercoolers. Soon they began touching
200mph. I didn’t know if I could be fast at Bonneville, though I
knew my car would look good.”
Bob has been amping up his
engine compartment with the help of legendary New England oval track
racer, Harry Kourafas. They’ve now got a totally tricked-out late
model four-cylinder Ford, fully computer-managed.
At the same time, Bob went
looking for a more local place to race. Collaborating with NYC
fireman Bob Wanner, he found an “obsolete runway” up in Limestone,
Maine. Loring Air Force Base had been a USAF heavy bomber facility
during the Cold War.
It’s not around the corner. They say
that 90% of Canadians actually live South of Limestone. So it’s
pretty rural, but it’s perfect – a sprawling, smoothly paved strip
extending a full two and a half miles.
Incredibly, the two
Bobs were able to organize the Loring Timing Association and held
the initial event in 2009 for an enthusiastic gaggle of car, truck,
and motorcycle racers. Now run by promoters from Down East, there
are annual LTA land speed trials.
This year’s action was on
July 17. Certainly the most noteworthy run was submitted by a
Floridian, Bill Warner, who became the first person ever to go over
300mph (311.945) on a conventional motorcycle. Warner admitted that
the ride got his attention, especially when he was trying to stop.
“The bike was bouncing, hopping, skidding, and sliding. It was a
little scary.” Can you imagine if he had encountered a big Maine
And Bob Jepson? His speeds are getting there. “My
first pass was just over 135. The second one, I was really moving,
but I couldn’t see, so I had to lift. But I got to go 167 through
the traps. Then I blew a gasket. But it was really something. Put
your head against the roll bar and go like hell.”
Harry and Bob will put on an aluminum head for next summer’s assault
on the North Country. And Bob will tinker with his rocket ship all
winter. Is he a classic racer, or what? He made the car, he made the
track. Here’s to his making the record.
Springfield, Mass. racing figure Eddie Ruggeri,
right, helps Bob strap in.
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
If you were
interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below: