One of the men who figured prominently in our tribute to Dan Gurney in last month’s issue, veteran Indycar mechanic Wayne Leary, has died following a decade’s battle with cancer. Leary worked for a number of teams during his years in the sport, but his greatest success was achieved during his three tours of duty as chief mechanic with Gurney’s All American Racers. Leary’s Eagles tallied 22 Indycar wins and 32 pole positions in those years, including the 1975 Indy 500 and the 1974 USAC National Championship, both with Bobby Unser. He was also named Indy’s mechanic of the year in 1972, when Unser shattered the Speedway’s qualifying speed records.
Known as a straight shooter with the ability to make good on-the-run decisions, Leary was popular and respected throughout the sport, held in high regard by friend and foe alike.
“Wayne Leary, Dean Williams and Butch Wilson represented a very strong foundation for AAR’s racing efforts in the late ’60s and early to mid ’70s,” said Dan Gurney. “Wayne was the leader and the spokesperson. He was very innovative and clever, and loved to compete in the head-shrinking battles of Gasoline Alley. He always had a great sense of humor and was never at a loss for words. I miss him.”
Among the many drivers with whom Leary worked was Rocky Moran, who nearly won his very first Indycar race in a Leary-prepared Eagle. “Wayne was a strong supporter of me after my Indycar debut at The Glen in 1981,” remembered Moran. “He got me my first shot at Indy in ’87 with George Walther where he was the chief on the car. I never would have raced there without his belief in me.”
Leary is survived by his only son, Roger “Sudsy” Leary who, with wife Michelle, presented his father with a pair of twin grandsons in the months before his death.
Anyone wishing to honor Wayne’s memory can make a donation in his name to the Indianapolis 500 Old Timers, Inc., P.O. Box 24404, Speedway, IN 46224.