Roland Leong is without a doubt on the same level in the history of drag racing as Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen and others of his generation. Roland switched from dragsters to Funny Cars and his long list of drivers is legendary, including Danny Ongais, Mike Sorokin, Larry Reyes, Bobby Rowe, Pat Foster, Butch Maas, Larry Arnold, Norm Wilcox, Ron Colson, Mike Dunn, Gordie Bonin, Rick Johnson, Leroy Chadderton, Jim White and Johnny West. He has tuned for the best and most successful race teams in a long career and now is back as a tuner on one of the premier Nostalgia Funny car teams. DRO thought it was long past due that we interview this legend so we sent DRO’s Darr Hawthorne and Chris Martin to talk to Leong at the Winternationals.
What were your first hot rod and your first fuel car?
LEONG: My first hot rod? I was in Hawaii and I was 15 and I had my mom’s Oldsmobile that my mother and father used to go to dinner in, so I decided to take it to the drags. At the time, I think it was 1959, all you needed was seatbelts. We could take the carpet out, punch a hole in it and put seat belts in, and then cover it back up (so the folks wouldn’t know we were racing the family car). There was only one thing wrong. I have a sister four years older than me and she and her boyfriend just happened to be at the drags and saw my mom’s car there, and went home and told my parents. I was all done racing for a while, you know?
What was your first fuel car?
LEONG: My first dragster was an injected gas dragster. I got my license for my gas dragster at Riverside Raceway. The track manager was C.J. Hart and he signed my license. My first fuel car was a Kent Fuller car. My maiden voyage in a fuel car was in 1964 at Long Beach, and I wasn’t familiar with the car. I didn’t know you were supposed to make a half pass so I made a full pass and couldn’t find the parachute handle. By the time I found it, it was too late and I’d run off the end of the course. Hit the “the end” sign and ended up on the railroad tracks. That was my first and only Top Fuel pass. We ran 191, which was pretty good. In the meantime I still had my injected gas dragster. When I crashed my Top Fuel car at Long Beach, C.J. Hart was the manager and he took away my license.
Years later, when C.J. was with the Safety Safari crew and he was at every NHRA race, I saw him one night and I said,“You know, C.J., I’ve really got to thank you.” He said, “What for?” I said, “You saved my life.” “What do you mean?” he asked. I said, “Well, if you didn’t take away my license, I’d have probably ended up killing myself by now, so I gotta thank you.” We both had a good laugh about that.