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1968 Oldsmobile Hurst - Mopar Mania - Straight Scoop

Gearhead News

Photography by Carlisle Productions, Courtesy Of The NHRA

Leong: I got a job with the Dragmasters out of Carlsbad (California), and they built dragster chassis at the time. I had a blown gas Chevrolet dragster that they built, and we were involved in a speed shop in Hawaii. Their owner, Jim Nelson, came over to show us how to run it because we had never run a blower before. Then I talked them into hiring me as a kid just to go to work. At the time, they had a dual engine Chevrolet dragster. My job was to pull the engines out. I got all the bolts loosened, and at the time we didn't have electric pulleys so I had to use a chain pulley, and I had both feet hanging off the ground to pull the engine out of this car. Then I got my dragster license at Riverside (California), and I kept going back and forth from California to Hawaii. I couldn't make up my mind where I wanted to live. Then in 1964, Danny Ongais and I had a gas dragster that we ran in California with a blown 480ci Wedge Dodge engine that we raced.

CC: When did you and Don Prudhomme join forces for your successful 1965 campaign?

Leong: At the end of 1964. I had a dragster being built and I attempted to drive it at Long Beach (Lions Dragstrip), and I crashed it. Keith Black said I made him a nervous wreck. So I gave up driving, and if I was going to stay in racing, I'd better run the car and let someone else drive it. I met Prudhomme through Keith Black when they came to Hawaii for the opening of a dragstrip.

CC: You two had some pretty good success in your first season together in 1965. Were you proud of that?

Leong: We won Pomona and Indy in '65, which at the time was the first time that anybody had won both races. Yeah, I'm proud of that. You're proud anytime you can win a race. After that, Prudhomme went with the B&M car and I hired Mike Snively to drive my car, and we proceeded to win the Winternationals and (U.S.) Nationals again in '66. I guess that was a pretty big accomplishment to win four times in a row. Of course, that was before there were a lot of national events.

CC: You toss around all these legendary names and places like Prudhomme, Snively, Black, Lions, and Indy-what was it like in the early days growing up as a pioneer in drag racing?

Leong: I don't consider myself a pioneer. I think I was just at the right place at the right time. We just wanted to go racing. I did what it took at the time. Like I said, I don't consider myself a pioneer. I consider a guy like Don Garlits and those in the late '50s or earlier '60s as the pioneers.

CC: What is your biggest career accomplishment to date?

Leong: Winning those races way back when was great, but I think the biggest achievement was in 1991 when we were the first Funny Car (driven by Jim White) to run over 290 mph. Winning Indy and the Skoal Showdown, which today only a few other people have done. We also set the national record in Indy that year. We went to Reading (Pennsylvania) and set it again. We went to Dallas (Texas) and set it again and then at the World Finals again. At Pomona (California) in '91, we ran 291 mph, and that was top speed of the race for both dragsters and Funny Cars.

CC: You left Don Prudhomme Racing in '99 and you worked with Jim Epler's car in '01. What have you been doing the past few years?

Leong: I've kept in touch with a lot of people out here. I talk to people as far as where the technology is going. I was always interested in that. Basically, I was the best armchair crew chief. I was sitting on my couch telling guys I knew they were going to smoke the tires, you should have done that or done this. Actually, I had a couple calls from people that wanted me to come help them, but I really didn't want to for one reason or another. A lot of it was them not having the budget to get ahead, like we have here with Prudhomme.

CC: What's your goal for the remainder of the 2004 season?

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