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Two-time Indy-car champion Joe Leonard dies at 84

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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.

Granatelli Turbine Indy car drive

When the 1960s rolled around, all of a sudden every single assumption anyone ever had was open to debate: Who says those guys can’t vote? Who says that particular half of the population has to …

Leonard also started one NASCAR Cup Series race, finishing 31st in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona for Smokey Yunick and Ford in 1969.

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.”



By Autoweek staff

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