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.
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.