Epler first to reach 300 mph in Funny Car
Reprinted from the Oct. 15, 1993 issue of National DRAGSTER
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Of the two Sears Craftsman Nationals barrier busters, Jim Epler's 300.40-mph blast Sunday morning was the most stunning.
Chuck Etchells (5.04) and John Force (5.01) recently had come close to making a four-second run, but no Funny Car was in the same county of a 300-mph run. The best speed before the explosion at Heartland Park Topeka was Freddie Neely's 295.27-mph national record, and that was run only once. Top speed at national events this season had ranged from roughly 289 to 292 mph.
Epler landed his first haymaker on the collective consciousness of the Topeka fans and racers when he put a 5.13, 299.90 on the boards at 2:18 Friday afternoon. After a moment of shocked silence, the crowd exploded in cheers.
Epler's crew chief, Mike Kloeber, was one of few in Topeka who wasn't shell-shocked.
"When you think about it, we've been running good lately," he said. "At [the U.S. Nationals], we set top speed against the best cars in the sport at 291.54 mph and backed it up with a 291.26. The conditions were much better here than at Indy.
"Since [the Jolly Rancher Candies Nationals], we've had this same basic combination. I've worked with a lot of different teams, and I think I've had as much fan time [wind tunnel]; I can get the car to run on the other end."
"Our car isn't any different than anyone else's for the first 800 feet," he said. "However, it charges like crazy in the last half of the course. It's like it has another gear in it."
The stats bore that out. On the 299.90 run, Epler's eighth-mile speed was 232.37, which means that the Rug Doctor Olds picked up a way-above-average 67 mph in the final eighth-mile.
Because of budget limitations, Epler made only one more qualifying attempt and ran a cylinder-dropping 5.35, 209.05 Saturday afternoon. The cylinder dropped after the eighth-mile point because the incremental times pointed to a run better than the 5.13, 299.90. Epler ran an eighth-mile 3.499, 232.37 on that run but ran a much-improved 3.419, 234.86 on the shutoff pass.
Epler joked that night, "I'm not worried. I'm saving the good stuff for TV tomorrow."
True to his word, Epler brought down the house with a 5.163, 300.40 first-round defeat of Gordon Mineo.
Unfortunately for Epler, he also saved the "bad stuff" for TV. In scoring a 5.18, 279.50 second-round win over Al Hofmann, his carís motor exploded in a ball of fire, burning the body and leaving the block in three pieces. Still, he was far from upset.
"No one likes to blow one of these cars up, least of all a guy like me with a limited budget," he said. "To run that 300-mph pass is something that will last a lifetime. If the price was this car, so be it.
"In fact, I'm not going to get rid of that body. As ugly as it looks, it still has historic value. It's been a heckuva weekend for Mike, me, and the Rug Doctor crew. I hope that we can use that 300 to put together a real good deal for next year."