Joe Leonard, the only driver to
win back-to-back national
championships in both the American Motorcyclist Association and Indy
cars, died on April 27 in San Jose, California, at the age of 84.
In his career, he won 27 national
AMA races and six Indy-car
races. He raced Indy cars under the USAC banner from 1964-74. He won
the national Indy-car championship in both 1971 and 1972 for car owner
Vel Miletich. In '71, he drove a Colt Ford to the title, and in '72 it
was a Parnelli Offenhauser.
Leonard won AMA national
championships in 1954, '56 and '57.
He set a then track record and
won the pole at the 1968
Indianapolis 500 (171.599 mph) driving a turbine car for Parnelli Jones
Racing. He led for 31 laps and was out front when a fuel shaft broke in
his car nine laps short of the checkered flag. Bobby Unser won the
race, while Leonard wound up finishing 12th.
Leonard finished an Indianapolis
500 career-best third in 1967 and '72.
Leonard also started one NASCAR
Cup Series race, finishing
31st in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona for Smokey Yunick and Ford in
Mario Andretti was a teammate of
Leonard's, along with Al Unser, in 1972.
"Joe, what a great guy," Andretti
said for a story published
in USA Today. "We had a lot of fun together. ... That guy, he used to
work hard and play hard with me and Al. The three of us just enjoyed
the time that we had."
AMA and USAC champion, Joe
was equally fast on two wheels as we was on four. Joe gained the AMA
Championships in 1954, 1956, 1957. Greater glory awaited as
Leonard reached top of the Indy Car world in convincing style by
winning consecutive USAC national season titles in 1971 and 1972.
He was a good friend and rider of JC Agajanian. "That Agajanians
Loved Joe, and will continue to past his passing." -