An article about Harold Leep
by Ray Cunningham
The 20Th century produced many great open wheel champions, racing stars that included Foyt, Wolfgang, Larson, Hinnershitz, Jones, and Grim to name a few. If I told you that one of those drivers raced for over 30 years, won at least 15 championships during that time, and so many races that we can only estimate the number, what driver would you guess we were talking about? Steve Kinser possibly? “The King”. A good guess, but a wrong one, the man in question was racing even before Steve Kinser was born, his name is Harold Leep, and he was “The King” of supermodified racing in the heartland during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and one of the best sprint car drivers of the late 1950’s and 1960’s as well.
Born in Oklahoma in 1933 during the dust bowl days, Harold Leep’s family moved to Arkansas City, Kansas when he was youngster. Harold joined the military at age 14, after fibbing about his age.
Chet Wilson, flagman Carl Mishmash, trophy girl & Harold Leep
When Leep returned from the military,(he was still under age at the time), he found his family had moved to Wichita. In 1950 Harold helped a friend finish his jalopy stocker, in exchange for the opportunity to drive it. Leep crashed the car the first time he drove it and was promptly fired. Fortunately for race fans everywhere, Harold was not deterred and raced for 35 years before his retirement.
Like many drivers of that era from Wichita, Harold developed his racing skills in the Jalopies at places like Cee Jay Stadium in Wichita. There Leep raced against the best that included, Dale Reed, Walt McWhorter, Frankie Lies, and Billy Mears (Rick Mears dad) among others. In 1955 Harold raced in his first sprint car race. In 1957 Leep heard that Chet Wilson had built a brand new sprint car for his 283 cubic-inch Chevy, fuel injected custom built engine. An engine that at the time was revolutionary in its design, in an era when Offies ruled the sprint car land scape. Wilson hired Leep (after much pestering from Harold) and one of the best sprint car teams of that era was born.
Over the next several years the red Chevy sprint car dubbed the “Offy Killer” would win numerous races with Leep behind the wheel.
In 1957-58-59, Leep and Wilson won the United Speedways Championship three straight years, once winning 10 races in a row before they lost. In the IMCA ranks Harold finished third place in 1959, 9Th in 1960 and third in 1961. In 1960 Harold crossed over to the USAC ranks and raced for Peter Schmidt in his
championship car wrenched by legendary mechanic Wally Meskowski. Unfortunately for Leep this endeavor led to only one start, a 14Th
place finish at Syracuse, New York. Though Leep would never end up racing at Indy, USAC’s loss was the heartlands gain as Leep would dominate in the midlands for years to come.
Harold Leep, Chet Wilson & trophy girl – 1960
1960 also found Harold racing with the BCRA for the first time. Leep and Wilson raced at Norton, Kansas when the BCRA ventured over to Kansas for the first time in the clubs history. Harold dominated the racing that day sweeping the entire program. In 1962 Harold decided he wanted to race an Offy, and joined forces with Red Lempelius. This team won several times that season including the “Hawkeye Futurity” in Des Moines, and finished 4Th place in the final IMCA standings. Teamed once again with Chet Wilson in 1963, Harold finished 11Th place in IMCA points and bought a bowling alley. Harold announced his retirement from racing at the time. Leep’s retirement was short lived as he was back behind the wheel the very next season.
The 1964 season was another big one for Harold as he finished 4Th in IMCA points and added 5 more wins to his IMCA resume. By the 1965 season Harold had decided to cut back on his sprint car racing activities. This was good news for fellow IMCA competitors as Leep was fourth in points for the IMCA decade 1955-64, trailing only Pete Folse, Bobby Grim, and Buzz Barton.
Harold had grown tired of traveling and had decided to join up with the supermodified ranks that raced closer to his Wichita home. The veteran still ventured out on occasion that season, finishing 5Th place in BCRA points and winning at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, as the BCRA raced there for the first time. In 1966 Harold switched sprint car rides with Grady Wade. Wade jumped into the Wilson #25 and Leep joined forces with Pius Selenke in the 1965 BCRA championship winning #43 roadster sprinter. This team finished 8Th place in BCRA points and won at the Belleville High Banks during fair week. In 1968 Harold teamed with former boss Chet Wilson for one last big win in sprint cars. Grady Wade had been the regular driver for Wilson since the 1966 season winning 6 times. At the Oklahoma State fair that year Wade was not available so Wilson turned to Leep one last time. Harold did not disappoint and won his 28Th IMCA feature race since 1957.
Though Harold was done with sprint car racing for the most part, he certainly wasn’t done racing by any means. While his sprint car career was winding down his supermodified career was just kicking into high gear. In 1965-1966-1967 Harold won the Supermodified track championship at 81 Speedway. In 1967 he won his second modified national championship at Hutchinson, Kansas. From there Harold won 11 out of 13 races he participated in 1968 at Eagle Raceway in Lincoln, Nebraska in the fuel injected supermodifieds. In the 100″ supers that dominated the tracks of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, Harold was the man to beat. In 1969 Harold won the track championships at 81 Speedway, the Tulsa Fairgrounds, and Oklahoma City. Three championships, three tracks, one season, incredible!
The decade of the 1970’s was like the late 1960’s, Harold won the track championship at Oklahoma City in 1971, 1976, 1977, and added his third championship at Hutchinson in 1972. In the newly formed NCRA that started in 1971, Harold was one the very best. Leep won the championship in 1972-1973 and 1976 in between a few more brief retirements. Harold won 21, 50 lap features from 1971-80 in NCRA competition placing him second on the victory list during that time. In 1975 Harold sold his bowling alley.
The 1980’s was the last decade of racing for the veteran driver. Harold capped his career by winning two more Hutchinson Nationals in 1983-84. During his supermodified hay day’s, Harold drove for several top owners including Ray Cates, Warren “Jelly” Wilhelm, Laverne Nance, Lonnie Snowden and Pat Suchy. After Harold’s retirement from racing he continued managing his oil and gas company that he started several years before. In 1990 he retired from that venture, and got back in to racing in 1991 as promoter at Muskogee Speedway In Oklahoma, his home since 1982.
In 2000 Leep was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa and the Big Car Racing Association Hall of Fame at the Smith Museum of American Speed, Lincoln Nebraska. A fitting testament to the man who dominated supermodified racing in the heartland in the 1960’s and 1970’s, while also being one of the best sprint car drivers of any era.
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