Born in Pittsburg, PA in 1931, Ray Heppenstall is the great-grandson of the founder of Heppenstall Steel, then the largest family-owned steel company in the U.S. But Ray’s fame would come from the racing world, not his grandfather’s steel industry.
Ray entered his first race, a 12-hour endurance race at Linden, N.J., airport on Aug. 22, 1954. He drove his new Nash Metropolitan, which he had modified with a dual-throat Stromberg carburettor and 12-inch front wheels. Heppenstall and his co-driver Howard comply had to retired after five hours with mechanical problems.
For the next 14 years, he was driver, designer, and mechanic for his own cars, and for other owners, racing primarily SCCA road events across the United States. During 1958 and 1959 Ray raced a D.B. Panhard HBR5 Super Rally Coupe for Howard Hanna from Philadelphia, the US Eastern distributor for D.B. The car gained numerous class wins, with Ray winning the SCCA Class H production championship in 1959, following Hanna’s win the previous year. Acting as D.B. salesman throughout the eastern United States, Ray drove the car to and from all the race meetings, including Riverside in California.
In 1960 Ray imported a modified version of the front-engined Elva Formula Junior cars built in England by Frank Nichols, known in the USA as the Scorpion. This was powered by an 1100cc Rytune DKW engine, Rytune being an associated company of Elva. Heppenstall entered the Scorpion at the SCCA National At Marlboro, Maryland and Continental Divide, Colorado, and drove the car to third place in each of those races. His Scorpions placed fifth (with driver Pedro Ridriguez) and second ( with driver Chuck Wallace) in the Vanderbilt Cup Finals at Roosevelt Raceway in Long Island.
It was during 1968 racing season, in the Howmet TX, that he made history by designing, building, and driving the Howmet TX to wins at Huntsville and Marlboro. The Howmet was the first and only turbine-powered car to win a race.
When the Formula Super Vee began in 1971, fitted a Lotus Formula 3 chassis with a VW engine and ran in the SCCA Super Vee championship series. Ray continued to run a team in Super Vee, but when the formula changed from using air-cooled engines to water-cooled, around 1978, he decided that racing had become far too expensive, and closed his workshop, moving out of racing
Around 1990, living in New Jersey, he became involved in the US vintage racing scene, racing an immaculate 1949 Crosley Hotshot three or four times a year and, in 2000, building up a Miller for vintage racing.