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Roland ‘the Hawaiian” Leong started winning
NHRA national events in 1964. As a crew chief, he
has won the Winternationals and Indy in Top Fuel.
He won Indy and the Big Bud Shootout in Funny Car.
Currently, almost 50 years after winning his first NHRA
national event, he is still active as crew chief on the car that
holds the present NHRA ET record for Nostalgia AA/FCs at 5.63.
DRO West Coast Editor caught up with Roland just before the NHRA
Las Vegas race, and the legendary Hawaiian graciously gave us this
interview. It is a candid and informative look at one of the most successful owner/tuners in the history of the sport.
: Is there a time or event that hooked you on drag racing?
Roland Leong: I think I was hooked as a kid in Hawaii, to tell you the truth, so
there was no real event, actually. I don’t know how it came about, but as far back as I can remember, maybe at twelve or thirteen years old I used to catch the bus home from school. There was a mom and pop grocery store, and I used to go in there and buy these little magazines, like a quarter the size they are today, you know Rod & Custom and Car Craft and I think that’s how I got interested in cars. It kind of went from there. Then I started hanging around guys that had faster cars. I guess that kind of where I got the bug.
: Which dragstrip did you go to?
RL: There was only one when I got my license, a dragstrip called Kahuku and that was on the island of Hawaii.
: Was there ever a time when you decided that you were a drag racer and that was what you were going to do?
RL: I think it all started when we won the Winternationals in my fuel car with Don Prudhomme driving in 1965. At the time we raced around the LA area: Long
Beach, Fontana, Pomona, after a while, we started getting dates at Fresno, or
Fremont, and we got paid to run the car. And about two months after Pomona,
I told Prudhomme, “Hey, why don’t we go back east like the big guys and
race, right?” he said, “Well, how am I going to get paid?” At the time he
was working painting cars. I said I’d pay him a percentage and we
booked the car and off we go. So I guess he thought about it for a little
while and then he said okay and I said okay, and then he booked
the car. I went along and brought all the spare parts I thought
we needed and off we went. Thinking back, I guess from
that day on, we were pros, not knowing it. We were
professional drag racers, but we didn’t really know
for sure. He could go back to work painting cars,
but that was all I’d ever done. So that was the
start of it.