Leighton Irwin takes his last fast lap

Leighton crests Mosport's Corner 2 in the Elva

It was just over a year ago when Leighton Irwin asked if he could share some of his racing stories with the readers of The Garage. Since that time, we have been treated to some great tales of the early days of racing in Ontario, right up to the professional ranks in the Formula Atlantic series.

Last night, Leighton passed away at Soldier’s Memorial Hospital in Orillia, where he had been for the past couple of weeks due to kidney failure.

Irwin’s love affair with racing began 1952, when he convinced his parents to take him to see the races at Edenvale airport. He was 14 years old.

In the years that followed, Leighton became a corner marshal, even working Mosport’s Turn 10 at the very first race at the now iconic track. Eventually, he took up racing himself, first in an MGB and graduating to an Elva sports racer. Like most racers in those days, Leighton even tried his hand at a bit of road rallying, entering a Corvair in the Ontario Winter Rally.

While racing the Elva, Leighton began experimenting with aerodynamics. The lessons he learned there served him well when he began crewing for Canadian racer, Bruce Jensen in Formula B which became Formula Atlantic. As a race mechanic in that series from 1969 to 1976, Leighton traveled to races around North America and worked alongside some of the biggest names in racing today.

In the late Seventies, Irwin would team up with Judy, who would become his life long friend, companion and wife. The duo took on the Honda BF Goodrich showroom stock series and then moved on to F4 cars. Leighton’s knowledge of formula car aero was the perfect match for Judy’s engine building skills and the pair enjoyed some success in that series.

Leighton remained an avid race fan right to the end and even when I visited him last week, he was telling new tales that I hadn’t heard before. He hated “those damn Formula Vees” thanks to the damage one of “those tanks” did to the beloved Xpit F4 car when one crashed into Judy.

Leighton Irwin truly was a pioneer of Canadian racing and I’m honored that he chose to share many of his stories with me and the readers here in The Garage. Through his stories, we are able to keep Leighton’s memories and some Canadian racing history alive.

You can find all of Leighton’s stories here.

I know that many readers had raced or crewed with Leighton over the years. It would be wonderful if you could share your memories in the comments section.


  1. Gary Magwood says

    Leighton epitomized what motor racing represented to many of us. He eagerly contributed to many fellow competitors' lives and experiences. He was a true fan and an enthusiastic "keeper of the stories." He participated in an era when individuals with limited resources combined with a huge desire to compete we're able to do so.
    I remember his excitement when he acquired his Elva, a real racing car, that he drove with great energy and even challenging larger, more powerful cars on several occasions. I helped him prepare the Elva in the early stages and then we combined "resources" when I campaigned a Merlyn MK6A under the "Canadian Automobile Racing Team" banner.
    He was a stalwart supporter and team member when I ran an early FF, a Merlyn MK11A in the late 60s.
    The photo of Peter Murdoch crouched beside the RDSCC MGB speaks volumes to a different time and circumstances.
    I will scratch around in my photo files and post a few shots of my racing with Leighton.

    RIP my friend.


  2. Colin King says

    Thanks for posting the early pictures of Leighton. it was nice to see him as I remembered him from the late 60's and early70's. Leighton shared space in my garage down on Grosvenor Street back in 69 and 70. He was a permanent fixture, always ready to help out one of the other 7 racers in the garage, and always with a story. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge when it came to racing. He was sometimes a pain in the ass as his stories overshadowed the need to get some work done. Regardless, always a gentleman and nice guy.

    Colin King

  3. Chris Haley says

    Leighton became an much enjoyed and appreciated member of the 3/4 Litre Association (Formula Four) early on in our existence. He and Judy contributed a great deal to the group, enjoyed the racing the F4's and generally made a weekend at the race track a lot more fun.

    Enjoy the ride at the new track Leighton, you will be missed.

    Chris Haley
    President – 3/4 Litre Association.

  4. Colene Evans-Allen says

    Through the eyes of a child, Leighton was just as important a part of my childhood as the rest of the guys were from my very first race at 3 weeks old to today. People think that I'm joking when I say I've been around racing for 26 years (1969 – 1983 and 1998 -Present), but Leighton was one of the few guys that remembered my days at the track with my parents. While I admit I prefer being known as myself these days, it was also pleasant to have Leighton look at me and say "Ah, Ron's daughter. How are you and where is your father these days?"

    I shall miss him.

    Colene Allen (nee Evans)

  5. Barbara Jensen says

    While most of the memories wil be of Leighton and his racing involvement, I can add a personal note. A long time ago, Mr. and Mrs. Irwin decided they would move to their cottage as their permanent home and give up their home on Bayview Avenue. Part of the reason was to encourage our Leighton to finally leave home and get a place on his own. Mrs. Irwin phoned me one day to ask if we would be interested in taking their dining room suite since they had no room for it at the cottage and she wanted to know that someone would care for, and cherish it, as much as they had. And so it came to the Jensen family and sits with pride in our dining room here in Orlando. Much of the time being covered with Bruce's never-ending paperwork. So if anyone comes to visit, you'll be eating at the Irwin family's dining table. We had lots of good times Leighton and I am sad that we never got to say goodbye. Barbie Jensen, Bruce's wife.

  6. BRUCE JENSEN says


  7. Bob Peberdy says

    One of my memories of Leighton are of him standing at the pit wall with several stop watches on a clip board recording lap times during the '74 and '75 Atlantic seasons when we were with Bruce Jensen. We were a bit serious then and Leighton always had 'the guff' on the competition and even got a bit tricky sometimes by recording section times as well as lap times, not easy with 3 mechanical watches.
    Leighton always had a story and over 2 years I thought I'd heard most of them but after reading these pages little did I know…..he could probably talk forever about his passion!
    Sometimes Leighton travelled with me in the Winnie towing the Atlantic on those long trips to the west and we had some good times and a lot of laughs. Thanks Leighton. The tall Aussie.

  8. Stephen says

    I lived beside Leighton and took him to the track the last couple of years. We shared lots of stories and he educated me on the finer details of motor racing. Leighton please take your victory lap my friend. I will always remember you. Cheers Stephen

    • Bob Peberdy says

      Hello Stephen,
      I visited Canada last year for the first time since leaving in 1976 and briefly searched for Leighton in Toronto where I last heard he was living. Was he there or in the Waubaushene area?
      It sounds like his health wasn't too good in the end and you were a great friend to him, so he was pretty lucky to have that.

      I have a photo of him when he was probably around 30 so if you're interested send your email address to me at robp54@hotmail.com and I'll forward it.
      Best Wishes,
      Bob Peberdy

  9. Mark Little says

    As someone who met Leighton under his nom de guerre “Easy Drifter” I can’t say I met him, but that is my loss. When he disappeared from another forum where Leighton posted, we didn’t know what happened and then I realized tracking him down wasn’t going to be easy. Thank you Gary Grant for your prompt reply.

    I will miss Leighton in a different manner, since I never met him but talked from time to time through onlne messages. He had a million stories and tons of passion. He will be missed, and I only wish I got to know him the way many of you did. As a CTA official, I probably crossed paths with manby at the track, but not Leighton. My loss….


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