Grainger Today Correspondent
BEAN STATION – A Grainger County man currently holds two world records.
Some may know Leon Epling from the many construction projects and job opportunities his company has brought to the community. However, anyone who isn’t interested in drag racing or mechanics may not know that Epling was recently recognized in Torque Magazine for holding the world record for the fastest manual transmission in a Dodge Hellcat.
Epling and his car “007,” a 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, currently hold two records. The records and speeds are for the Hellcat forum. The Hellcat is the name of the Hemi engine that Dodge placed into Challengers, as well as other models of Dodge vehicles starting in 2015.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat “007” also broke the world record for the fastest Hellcat recorded, at a speed of 154.88 mph, running at 9.08 seconds. “I want to be the first to eight seconds. That is the goal now,” said Epling.
Epling and the “007” Hellcat hold both records, but they have competitors trying to break that record almost daily. Epling said, “Josh in the Topcat car is trying hard. They are at the track several times a week, trying to better their times. It’s just a matter of time for them. If they get there first, it’s okay.” For now, the Epling Garage racing family has been able to stay ahead of their competition and keep these records at home. There are many competitors for the race to eight seconds. Tim Barth Tuning is planning to release eight-second cars this fall.
The demeanor that Epling has towards his competitors is surprising as he seems to welcome all challengers….or chargers.
As many who are passionate about their hobbies do, Epling remembers how his began. It started with a gift from his wife. “My wife bought me this car new off the lot. What a woman. If she only knew what was to come,” Epling said, smiling. “My wife loves the car, mainly because it makes me happy. She has been a real trooper in my quest to be fast. She supports me tremendously.”
His hobby brought his family together and brought worldwide recognition. “My son has a Charger and I have a Challenger,” Epling said. “After I got mine and my son drove it, two weeks later he bought a 2015 Charger. This immediately turned into a family adventure, with all the family members coming to most of the races.”
They were fast from the beginning, obtaining speeds of more than 181mph during their first races. Epling said, “The first race we did was the Standing Mile, in Blytheville, Arkansas, at a retired Air Force base. We both came away from that race as the fastest Challenger and Charger there. We were instantly hooked, pumped and stoked!”
The second racing event the team attended was the Wanna-Go-Fast event in Georgia. “It was a super nice event, with people from probably 20 states,” Epling said.
Epling’s son, Jason, even won the Points Championship in 2016 with the Epling Garage Dodge Charger. Epling said, “The first year of drag racing went great for my son, not so much for me. We ran the modern street hemi shootout series across the U.S. He won every round of every race.”
The Challenger’s manual transmission sent Epling on a mission to reach the top. He said, “Mine being a six speed, it was going through parts because of the hard launch. I had to find some stuff that would work in my car. The Hellcat forum was all aglow, of how the manuals were slow and the automatics were fast. This was really getting under my skin. No manual cars were doing good. So, I set out to prove them wrong.”
He didn’t just prove them wrong. He now has the car to beat, regardless of transmission type. Epling said, “After a year of different clutches, transmissions, shifters, wheels, tires, drivelines, etc., I was pretty sure I had a good combination.” The spring of 2017 at Bowling Green, Kentucky, at Challenger Fest 8, he said “it happened.” The car ran a world record time for a
six-speed car of 9.27.
The next race was at Rockingham, North Carolina, where the car set another world record, beating the automatic and manual car record with a 9.06 at 154.88 mph. This made “007” the top car to beat.
Epling is a down-to-earth Grainger County resident. When asked what he enjoys about Grainger County he said, “Grainger County is a slower way of life, with people that are still tasting the real fruits of life, and living on Cherokee lake is as good as it gets. I want to thank all my family and friends for putting up with me. Pressing to obtain these records, hasn’t been no easy task.”
The father and son team will continue to compete in the muscle car world. The “Race to 8” is on, and the leader is here at home in Bean Station.