Joe Leonard

Full Name:
Joseph Paul Leonard
Born:
4th August 1932
San Diego, California
Died:
27th April 2017 (Aged 84)
San Jose, California
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

This Californian enjoyed a long and distinguished career on both two- and four-wheels and was National Champion in both.

Motorcycling career

Joe Leonard began racing bikes in his hometown before moving to San Francisco when 19 years old to further his career. Wild but fast, he was hired by San José Harley-Davidson dealer Tom Sifton and responded by winning the 1954 AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) National Championship in his sophomore season. He repeated that success in 1956 and 1957 before switching to cars by the end of the decade.

Switch to the USAC National Championship

Leonard made his Indycar debut in 1964 and was a winner within a year. He signed to drive Dan Gurney’s rear-engine Hallibrand-Ford in 1965 – retiring at Indianapolis but a second place finisher a week later at Milwaukee. He went one better when the series returned to the one-mile oval that August by passing Mario Andretti’s Hawk shortly after the dominant Parnelli Jones had retired.

Fourth in the 1966 Indycar standings, Leonard left Gurney’s All American Racers to join the A.J.Foyt Jr Sheraton-Thompson team for 1967. The Coyote-Fords of Foyt and Leonard finished in first and third at Indy but while the team owner won the title, Leonard quit the team mid-season.

Indianapolis heartbreak for Granatelli

A member of Andy Granatelli’s STP Lotus team for the 1968 Indianapolis 500, he qualified the silent Lotus 56-Pratt & Whitney gas turbine on pole position at 171.559mph. He was leading the race with nine laps to go when sidelined by a broken fuel shaft.

He drove for Parnelli Jones in 1969 and scored a long-awaited second victory in the 1970 Rex Mays 150 at Milwaukee – his Johnny Lightning-sponsored Colt-Ford passing Roger McCluskey in the closing laps.

Double Indycar Champion for Parnelli Jones

The 1971 season proved to be a fine one for the team, with Al Unser scoring a second successive Indy 500 victory and Leonard winning the Indycar title. He only won once (Ontario’s California 500) but his Colt-Ford scored another seven top-10 finishes to beat Foyt to the crown. Parnelli introduced its own Offenhauser-powered chassis for 1972. Leonard finished third again at Indy and won three mid-season races to retain his title.

After a frustrating 1973, the team switched to the increasingly popular Eagle chassis for 1974 but Leonard crashed into the pit wall during the California 500 when his tyre punctured at the start of lap 146. He suffered severe leg and ankle injuries that forced him to retire.