Hawaii’s Winningest Drag Racer, Roland Leong, Enters Hall of Fame

Elana ScherrCar and Driver

Excellent issues arrive from the Hawaiian islands: chocolate-protected macadamia nuts, browsing, and successful racers. Danny Ongais, who raced all the things from Top rated Gasoline to F1 John DeSoto, motocross legend and Roland Leong, famed Humorous Vehicle tuner, share a lot more than their island birthplace: as of August 2022, they are now the only wheeled inductees in the Hawaii Sporting activities Corridor of Fame.

We’d say they were the only motorsports representatives at all, but that would go away out Thomas Gentry, powerboat racer.

Leong is the most modern inductee, officially becoming a member of the listing in 2020, but thanks to COVID only celebrating the honor on August 25, 2022, when the Hawaii Athletics Corridor of Fame finally held its much postponed banquet. We ended up on hand to cheer as Leong took the phase, introduced by his initial driver, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme. It was the initial time the two adult men experienced been in Hawaii jointly given that they fulfilled in 1964.

Avenue Racing on Oahu

Leong grew up on Oahu, racing cars and trucks on the streets, significantly to the dismay of his moms and dads. “My father had a master’s diploma from Harvard. My mother was also a college graduate, quite scarce for a woman in the ’30s. They were being highly regarded businesspeople. I did not graduate large faculty and I desired to be a drag racer. They were not delighted.”

Leong’s dad didn’t communicate to him for a long time, but his mom arrived all around and supported him as he moved from avenue racing to working a dragster at the island’s only track, Kahuku Dragstrip. Leong held the gasoline dragster report of 8.50 at 180 mph when he met Prudhomme, who was piloting the Greer, Black, Prudhomme nitro dragster, transported about to make exhibition runs on the island’s new, more substantial dragstrip. The two hit it off, in spite of the point that Prudhomme could hardly realize Leong’s combine of Hawaiian slang and accented English. It didn’t make any difference talking cars and trucks was a common language.

Later on that 12 months, Leong was in California, working for a chassis shop and making a top rated fueler of his own. The initially drive did not go perfectly. “I guess I was meant to only go fifty percent observe? I failed to know that,” suggests Leong, with the uncomplicated cadence of a a great deal-advised tale. “I failed to know where by the parachute manage was, and by the time I observed it, I might driven off the dragstrip. [Engine builder] Keith Black wasn’t delighted. He explained he could not support me if I drove, for the reason that he failed to want to inform my mom and dad I might been killed in a automobile.”

Elana Scherr

Black encouraged Prudhomme, as their husband or wife in the G-B-P automobile was contacting it quits. Prudhomme began driving for Leong and took the new motor vehicle, properly named “The Hawaiian,” to victories at the NHRA Pomona Winternationals and the Indy U.S. Nats alongside with a great number of match race rounds. “I generally explain to Prudhomme he is blessed I wasn’t well worth shit as a driver or he wouldn’t have experienced a career,” claims Leong. “In some cases I believe of how odd we ought to have seemed in ’65, on the highway across The us, a Chinese-Hawaiian and a Black person, usually the only ones in a cafe. We by no means experienced any difficulties, although. I guess men and women preferred the car also much to be concerned about who was with it.”

Prudhomme remaining Leong the subsequent yr, a decision he claims he regretted as he watched the Hawaiian repeat victories at the Winternationals and the U.S. Nats with a distinctive driver behind the wheel. Leong would turn out to be infamous for his modifying roster of hotshoes. “Not everyone had the exact same desire to gain as I did,” he says with a shrug.

“The Hawaiian”

leong hawaii sports hall of fame

Hawaii Sporting activities Hall of Fame

In 1969, he constructed a Amusing Car or truck, noting that the bodied fuel cars ended up a lot more well-liked with the admirers and had far more chances to match race than the very long, naked rails. Leong’s “Hawaiian” cars and trucks gained often, like the famed Bakersfield March Fulfill in ’67 and ’83, and one more U.S. Nationals win in 1991 with a motor vehicle that would later established a file as the very first Amusing Vehicle in excess of 290 mph. His very last 12 months as a workforce operator was 1993, but he ongoing working as a hired crew main, such as rejoining his aged buddy, the Snake, to tune the Copenhagen Amusing Car with a young driver named Ron Capps driving the wheel. They completed next by a slender margin to John Force in the championship in 1997.

One may well consider that a solid job, but Leong ongoing to tune nitro vehicles after leaving the NHRA “big exhibit,” operating for nostalgia racers operating in the NHRA’s heritage series. As a result of it all, Leong has stayed pals with many of his teammates, which include Prudhomme. Now 78 and 81 respectively, the Hawaiian and the Snake nevertheless act like they are in their early twenties as they were when they fulfilled, pointing out incredibly hot automobiles and ribbing every other about their various failings. “You know, Snake and I would have lunch each working day in Van Nuys,” mentioned Leong. “He was operating at a paint shop, and I convinced him to go on the street with me in ’65, so he give up, and he hasn’t experienced a genuine position due to the fact.”

That is one particular way to describe Prudhomme’s 389-round winning job, but then, Leong has recognised him considering the fact that right before he was a large shot, back when they ended up both just little ones chatting automobiles in Hawaii, in no way imagining they’d be back again for a Corridor of Fame induction just about 60 yrs afterwards.

leong hawaii sports hall of fame

Elana Scherr

leong hawaii sports hall of fame

Elana Scherr

Leong was inducted as element of the 2020 class, alongside with surfer Ben Aipa and racquetball winner Egan Inoue. The 2021 inductees, honored at the exact same celebration, bundled volleyball champ Reydan “Tita” Ahuna and sports activities promoter Larry Cost. The Hawaii Sports activities Corridor of Fame is a state-operate museum recording the achievements of Hawaii’s athletes in all sorts of sport.