It's Like Father, Like Daughter For Auto Racing Team

Glen Burnie Man's Enthusiasm Was Contagious

October 14, 1990|By Stanley Dillon | Stanley Dillon,Contributing writer

Jim Epting's hobby is racing a BMW 2002 several weekends a year, and after 22 years of racing, he has taken on an unlikely driver as part of his team.

The Glen Burnie resident's 19-year-old daughter, Leah, has been joining him at road courses like Summit Point in West Virginia and Watkins Glen in New York.

Leah Epting always has been around racing. It would have been only natural for her to become involved -- that is if she had been born a boy.

But she didn't let being a woman stop her from joining a sports world dominated by men.

She started helping her dad work on his cars when she was 14. She worked on the cars during the week, and on weekends she worked in the pits at the track.

Last fall, after successful results in auto-cross competition, Leah and her father decided to look for a car for her to race. They found a 1972 BMW 2002 like her father's, and a new racing team was formed.

The father-daughter team kept busy during the winter turning Leah's BMW into a race car and rebuilding Jim's car. But Leah does a lot of her own work since her dad is occupied keeping his own car in racing condition.

When Leah is not driving her car to its limits on the track, the car is her mode of transportation to and from work. Needless to say, the green BMW grabs attention on the highway with its No. 42 painted on the side and the roll cage inside.

Jim was born and raised in northeast Mississippi close to Memphis, Tenn.

When he was a boy, he always was reading about sports cars. After high school he graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in electrical engineering.

Following college he served in the Navy at the Patuxent Naval Station in Southern Maryland. He liked the area so much that when he was released from the military in 1965, he got a job at Westinghouse and moved to Glen Burnie. A short time later, he went to work for the government as an electrical engineer.

It was during his time in the Navy that his childhood dream of owning a sports car began to take shape. He became friends with a group of guys with a similar interest, began going to races and later became active in auto-cross racing. He then started going to sport car races with them.

Eventually Jim took a drive on the track, and he has been hooked ever since.

"Once I got on the track, I could never go back to being a spectator," Jim said. "If you are a competitive person like I am, it grows on you."

Once bitten by the bug, Jim began racing every week. He drove in the last race ever run at Marlboro Raceway in Marlboro and in the first race at Summit Point. His first car was an MGB sports car that he raced in E Production Class in 1967. Two years later, Jim finished sixth in the nation in his class.

He later raced a Ford Pinto in 1971 and then switched to showroom stock two years later. In 1975, his racing career ended when he was transferred to Europe where he worked for three years. When he returned to the Glen Burnie area, he did not plan on racing again.

But in 1984, Jim found out that the racing bug would not die.

"I thought I had it out of my system, but you know how you can never get rid of the racing bug," he said. "But this new class came along, it seemed like it was tailored to my taste. So I started racing again."

The new class that attracted Jim was the Improved Touring Class, which was started by the Sports Car Club of America. It attracted people like Jim who enjoyed working on their own cars.

The class is limited to older cars and has strict limitations to help keep costs to a minimum. The motor, carburetor and exhaust header all have to be stock. Minor modification to the suspension is allowed, but the car has to run on street tires. It is a regional class that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series.

The class also appealed to Jim because of the type of cars competing in it. While in Europe, Jim fell in love with the BMW and it just happened to be one of the better cars in the class along with the Volvo 142E and the Alpha GTV.

Jim cuts cost by doing all the work himself. "Leah and I do all our own motor work," said Jim. "We do everything from the suspension to the painting. If you do it yourself and keep everything in perspective, you can control costs. Still, racing is not cheap, but you can keep a handle on it."

Jim admits he is afraid to add up his expenses. He estimates that he spent about $6,500 on Leah's car. He was able to buy the car for $1,400, but it required another $5,100 to get it on the road.

Since Jim returned to racing in 1984, his daughter has been by his side.

Racing always has intrigued Leah. "It wasn't as hard as I thought," she said. "I found it to be more of a mental strain than a physical strain that everyone said it would be."

Both Jim and Leah spend a considerable amount of time on their cars. Jim spends about 25 hours a week, but after his outing last month where he lost an axle and almost rolled the car, he spent up to 40 hours a week preparing the car for the next race.

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