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LEO CLEARY PASSES
by Phil Smith

Longtime Modified racing legend Leo Cleary passed away on Tuesday, January 31 in Florida. A giant of a man and veteran of 44 years of competition in the Northeast was 88 years old.

In his six decades of racing Cleary garnered 14 track championships in various divisions of racing.

This man didn't drive a Modified, he man-handled it and squeezed every ounce of power and bite he could out of his race car. Leo Cleary had the knack to out drive his race machine and will it to perform above and beyond. An insurance adjuster by trade, Leo worked five days a week. He raced with a purpose as he put his children through college with his race winnings.

Leo's smile was just as much a trademark as his capabilities in the driver's seat. During the 60ís he was a vital part of the competition that made up the circle of champions that raced at Stafford on Friday nights, Norwood Arena on Saturday nights and at Thompson on Sundays with the likes of Bugsy Stevens, Fats Caruso, Fred DeSarro, Eddie Flemke and Gene Bergin to name a few.

Those of us who witnessed his talent behind the wheel feel fortunate. He was also an outstanding body man as his work showed on many of the cars in which he drove. He was also an innovator. When Eddie Flemke invented the split spring front end Cleary did him one better and applied the same idea to the rear suspension.

During his career he drove many top notch cars including those of Bernie Barrows, Sonny Koszela, Bob Garbarino, Joe Brady, Art Barry, Tom Dunn and Rollie Linblad to name a few. Behind the wheel he was as tough as nails. If anyone messed with the big guy they paid the price.
Cleary won a Pro Stock division championship at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway in 1986 at the age of 58 and followed that up with a Mini Modified championship at the track the next season.

Cleary retired to Florida in 1988 and continued to compete in the Sunshine State until 1993, finally retiring at the age of 63. While in Florida Cleary had the good fortune to win the Florida lottery for $50 grand.

Cleary was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, as part of the second induction class for the organization. Throughout his retirement he was seen regularly at Seekonk and at Thompson and shared many a story with him. He will be missed!.
 
Source: Phil Smith
Posted
: February 2, 2017

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