John Knepp, co-founder of sports car racing powerhouse Electramotive Engineering, has died in Southern California at the age of 75.
Knepp’s vehicular expertise was honed at Brock Racing Enterprises – the famed BRE Datsun team led by Peter Brock – before he moved on to form Electramotive with Don Devendorf in 1974. Continuing his association with the American arm of the Japanese brand, Knepp and Don Devendorf took the small, El Segundo-based Datsun tuning and racing outfit from running club racing sedans to championship success in the burgeoning IMSA GT series.
An IMSA GTU title in 1979 and an IMSA GTO championship in 1982 set the stage for Datsun (under the renamed Nissan banner) to take the series by storm. Of all the accomplishments earned by Knepp and his Electramotive team, Geoff Brabham’s four consecutive IMSA GTP (pictured) titles from 1988-’91 continues to stand as a record within the organization.
With engine building and development as one of his primary areas of involvement during Electramotive’s IMSA days, Knepp was responsible for some of the most powerful motors unleashed on the series during its golden era. In concert with Devendorf’s electronics wizardry, the two pioneered the use of electronic fuel injection and electronic control units in motor racing, which often delivered an advantage for their Datsun and Nissan engines.
“In the little dyno building behind Electramotive in El Segundo, a lot of long days and late nights were spent developing the Nissan 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged engine for the GTP program, making outrageous power and sorting out the inevitable problems,” former Electramotive engineering VP Wes Moss told RACER.
“John Caldwell later took over the program, developing a 4-valve head version, but I don’t think John Knepp received appropriate credit for his contributions to the GTO program and the early days of the GTP program. He led a small crew of dedicated individuals who busted their humps to create and develop the original V6 turbo engine. The early engines not only were used in the GTP program but were in Group C cars for NISMO in Japan.”
Former Nissan USA Motorsports boss R.W. “Kas” Kastner, who worked alongside Knepp, Devendorf, Moss, and others during Electramotive’s rise to GTP greatness, remembered Knepp for his ambitious versatility.
“I was always impressed by John,” Kastner said. “He never thought a proposed project or theory was too far out of his reach and ability. He did some amazing things.”
At its peak, the company co-founded by Knepp grew from having two full-time staffers to becoming one of the largest employers in North American motor racing as more than 250 people supported Nissan’s factory motorsports firm.
Knepp is survived by his wife Lori and their two children, and a GoFundMe page has been established to help the family with his loss.