My Motorsports Passion

          

 

 

 

 

Ken Scheepers

Ken Scheepers     Team Owner/Driver/Manager

 Over the past handful of years, sport compact drag racing and its predecessor – import drag racing – have changed the face of professional drag racing. For the five decades since the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) became organized as the first professional drag races in the world, drag racing has become associated with racing between domestic branded rear-wheel-driven dragsters powered by traditional large displacement V8 engines.
 

It's no secret that sport compact drag racing has attracted great popularity partly because of the high variety of makes and models of production based racecars involved in the sport as well as their relatively high-tech nature. In fact, the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) Summit Sport Compact Drag Series’ five 2003 class champions each drove a different make to the winners circle. Naturally, the variety and amount of competitors have made sport compact drag racing one of the most competitive Motor sports in the world.

     There is no better example of this than the NHRA’s Sport Compact Series’ All Motor Class. Designed to highlight competition between naturally aspirated (no turbochargers, superchargers, or other “power adders” allowed) small displacement sport compacts, the competition is made even more difficult because it is the only class in the series that still allows both front and rear wheel drive competitors. Throw in eligibility of both 4-cylinder piston engines and 2-rotor rotary engines and you’ll have a potent mix of racers competing for the same single trophy at every event of the series’ ten-event championship.

     For rotary fans, Ken Scheepers and his 1985 Mazda RX-7, and recently changing over to his brand new 2005 Mazda RX-8  were the torch holders in the All Motor Class. Scheepers was able to clock record setting times in the 1.3-liter, 2-rotor RX-7 with a best ever E.T. of 10.21 seconds and best MPH of 130.62 in the quarter-mile. After finishing second in the All Motor Championship by the closest of margins – eight points - in the semifinal round of the last race of the season, Scheepers is ready to lead the rotary attack again in the Modified Class  with a renewed vigor and a new RX-8 race car.

     Although Scheepers was considered a top contender in the class for the past couple of years (he finished third in points in 2002), his drag racing career has been brief - having began a few years earlier in 2000 and at the age of 48.

     Scheepers, originally from South Africa, found himself hooked on drag racing after attending a local drag race near his current hometown of Flower Mound, Texas at the prodding of Chris Ott and Ari Yallon, rotary drag racers and owners of a Rotary Performance shop called RX7.Com. Campaigning a third generation RX-7, Yallon was the first NHRA Street Tire Class Champion in 2001. Scheepers had started racing in the NHRA Street Tire Class as well, driving a Mazda RX-7 Turbo II in seven of eight events in 2001 and finishing third in season points. Prior to this, his only motor sport experience was racing motorcycles as a young boy in South Africa. In fact, racing aspirations were furthest from the mind of Scheepers, who once sold all his belongings so that he could sail the world.Ken's Street Tire Turbo II RX-7

     "I raced motocross in South Africa while in high school all the way through the early 1980s," recalled Scheepers. "I moved to the United States in 1985. I took off sailing for two and a half years when I was 28 before that. This is keeping me young, I love it. It’s exhilarating to me. The people here are all so nice. They really like helping out. It’s a great environment."

     Encouraged by his rookie drag racing efforts though, Scheepers decided to jump into the series with two feet in 2002 with a purpose-built 1985 RX-7 for the ultra competitive NHRA All-Motor Class. Teamed with Crew Chief Anthony Bulger, Scheepers attended every one of the 10 events across the country and became an instant contender. However, it was eventual friend and tuner Jesus Padilla that won the 2002 All Motor title. Padilla used a displacement advantage in his 20B, 3-rotor powered RX-7 to dominate the season – which led to a rules change banning the 3-rotor power plant the next season. After using the lessons learned from 2002 to make key chassis and engine tuning changes, Scheepers came out swinging in 2003 and won his first NHRA race and three of the first four races of the season. Part of the success was tied into an engine built by Padilla’s Kilo Racing Shop – who, despite remaining a fierce competitor in the same category, freely shared all of his racing innovations on Scheepers’ motor.

     "The only rivalry we have is when we’re at the light together," said Scheepers about his relationship with Padilla. "That’s the only time. I’ll call and speak to him on a very regular basis. We share information. We share what we’re doing, very, very detailed stuff that most racers would never do. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to be able to have a fierce competitor as he is and still build a motor for me, help me out, tell me how to tune it and then apply the new technology. That’s really what’s done it."

     The early success in the face of better-funded and more experienced competitors was encouraging but a midseason rule change quickly changed the competitive landscape. Fearing another runaway season by a rear wheel drive competitor, series officials added weight to the rear-wheel drive competitors while removing weight from front-drive competitors. The changes forced Scheepers to deal with 50 pounds of additional weight and competitors weighing as much as 500 pounds lighter.

     Expectedly, the front-drive racers began winning events while Scheepers had to regroup. The season came down to a razor-thin points battle between Scheepers’ RX-7 and the front wheel drive Dodge Neon of Scott Mohler at the Mazda NHRA Sport Compact World Finals in Pomona, the last race of the season. Scheepers needed to only go one round further in the competition than Mohler to grab the championship and he had his chance when Mohler fell in the semifinal round of competition. Unfortunately, a broken 35-cent part and the very quick Volkswagen Beetle of Jack Sacchette ended his bid.

     "I was disappointed, yet I had a sense of great accomplishment," said Scheepers later. "We proved how tough we were until the mid-season rule changes, so it was out of my hands. There was nothing I could have done about it because I felt that the rule changes were unfair."

     For 2004 though, the rules changed again – but to Scheepers’ advantage this time. "Next year [the NHRA] will let me take 100 pounds out of my car and some other All Motor guys are going to have to add some weight, so it’s going to be a lot more competitive next season. If I get a two or three-tenths hole-shot like I did at many races last year, I’ll be able to win the race. Sometimes I had really a good hole-shot and still got beat by three-tenths."

     Scheepers was excited about the prospects for the 2004 season, which he again planning to run the full NHRA Sport Compact schedule. "With just two changes during the off season, the roll cage was modified so that it can be certified to run in the 9's and 100 pounds lighter; we were ready to compete. "We will run 9's this year. You can count on it." But the weight change will not matter long for his 1985 RX-7 - during the off-season, Scheepers began building a new Mazda RX-8 racecar, the car that is jumpstarting the rotary revolution once again, to attack the All-Motor class. "This car is going to be a great racecar. Just you all wait and see," said Scheepers. The team plans to run the RX-7 for the first few races of the year until work on the RX-8 is complete.

     Unfortunately, the teams 2004 season would end prematurely. Starting the season off with a #1 qualifier  followed by a mechanical failure and after competing in just 3 events, the season would end in Englishtown, NJ after an accident where the car hit the wall at the top end of the track. The damage to the right front was severe so consequently the care had to be totaled.

 

Ken's All Motor RX-7

The vaunted 1985 Mazda RX-7
 
    Having taken delivery on the new RX-8 body from Mazda in February, the team plan was to build the new car over the coarse of the year and possibly complete with the new RX-8 by mid season to compete in the All Motor Class. As most of the parts could have been transferred to new car, this would have cut our build time down dramatically but due to the NHRA rules, we were unable to convert the RX-8 independent rear suspension to a solid axle. This was a tremendous blow to the team. We had this new car and we could not race in the class as planned.
   
    After weeks of "regrouping" and speaking with Mazda, we decided to build the purpose built Modified Class RX-8 to compete in the NHRA's Sport Compact Drag Racing Series. The car was built in record time, ready to compete at the 2005 season opener in Florida.
 
The entire build from beginning to completion can be viewed on the Project RX-8 page.
 
 
 

     During the final months of 2004, the new RX-8 was completed and due to the cold weather in Texas, testing was not possible. That had to wait until just 4 weeks prior to the season opener. However, tuning on the chassis dyno at Rotary Performance had provided  us with results that were surprising and exciting. Following the few 1/8th mile test sessions, reality struck and we soon realized this new car was going to a completely new  experience and learning curve. Other than the 13B 2-Rotor engine and the same transmission, that's where the similarities ended.

    The team's 2005 season was a challenge to say the least, said Scheepers. "Due to a lack of experience, we got off to a rocky start. The additional 600 plus horsepower compared to the All Motor car, the huge ET and MPH difference, the level of competition etc. was a surprise". However, we were able to learn a tremendous amount, keep the car in one piece and stay focused and by seasons end, we were able to win Moroso-2 in August, #2 qualifier and be in the final round at the season final in Pomona. Our rookie efforts secured the team a 4th place standing in the 2005 NHRA Sport Compact Drag Racing Series.

    Finally said Scheepers, "We started off with 1/4-mile performance goals posted inside the trailer. While only one was reached (a 1.1 60-foot ET), we did a 1.15 second 60'  and we were very close to our 1/8th mile goal of 4.9 second ET. We did a 5.0 at 142 MPH. That said, we are extremely excited and optimistic about the upcoming 2006 season and look forward to contending for the championship".

 

Send mail to ken@kenscheepers.com with questions or comments about this web site.
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