Modified Racing Legend Leo Cleary Passes

Leo Cleary (Photo: New England Antique Racers)

Longtime Modified racing legend Leo Cleary passed Tuesday in Florida

Cleary, a veteran of 44 years of competition in the Northeast, was 88 years old.

According to the New England Antique Racers, Cleary won 14 track championships over a varied group of divisions in his six decades of competition, which included stints at all three current Connecticut short tracks.

“He was part of that deal in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with Bugsy Stevens and Fred DeSarro and Ed Flemke Sr. when you just had so many of the greats of all-time competing,” Longtime New England Racing historian and journalist Peter Zanard said. “And he was just a tough driver. I compare him to when Boston had all those tough middleweight fighters that people said could fight in a phone booth and need a ring to dance around in. Leo was like that. He didn’t need much room to get by you out there. And he was one of the greats.”

Cleary won a Pro Stock division championship at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway in 1986 at the age of 58, followed that up with a Mini Modified championship at the track the next season.

After relocating to Florida in 1988, he continued to compete in the Sunshine State until 1993, finally retiring at the age of 63.

Cleary was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, as part of the second induction class for the organization.


  1. Rest in peace, Leo. It was fun to watch you race. You gave us many great memories.

  2. This is not the way we wanted to see 2017 start. RIP Leo, you were one of the greats.

  3. Great hard nose racer in a great time for Modified racing. Leo The Lion and that’s how he raced.
    RIP Leo.

  4. rick rustic says

    RIP Leo. He was great driver and a greater body man. Not to mention Fist LOL

  5. Lived in Florida in retirement, with the late Gene Bergin they were best of friends , the fame {m 2) was the number on one of the only 5 window coupes out there……RIP Leo we lost another great one…….

  6. Rest In Peace Leo Cleary. Leo was of the fiercest competitors New England Modified Racing ever had. He was always a threat to win races, and always added excitement when he was in the field. It was a privilege to have seen him race as many times as I did.

  7. RIP Leo the Lion. You were one of the great wheel men of your generation and it was a pleasure to watch you compete.

  8. Crazy in NY says

    Got to meet him at Seekonk a couple of years ago. Just went right where he was sitting (with Bugsy)
    and asked about his glory days, today’s racing and other stuff. The grip of his hand shake and that
    great grin in his face was a treat for me. Being from NY I didn’t get to see run much but I knew of his exploits. A hard nosed racer from the golden age. This fan sure appreciated what those guys did back then. Rest well Mr Cleary. You’ll not be forgotten by the fans of this great sport.

  9. Leo ……..Truly a champion in era where racers were real racers. The 4 th turn hero’s will miss his presence. I hope one of tracks that Leo ran will have a tribute race in Leo’s honor

  10. old observer says

    If Seekonk doesn’t, they have a real problem! Multi time champ in many divisions.

  11. Rc Robbins says

    Raced with Leo threw the 1970’s we parked in the pits at Seekonk right next to each other and Fred DeSarro # 3. My modified # was 23 I was the youngest modified driver and learned from Leo and Freddie. I raced from 1973-1979

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