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.
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Early Aero part 2

My last couple of articles have been on current Indy car female drivers but I will now revert to my long ago years in racing.

After I exploded my good Coventry Climax engine in 68 I tried to find a replacement. For quite a while no luck but finally a rather tired unit was found. In retrospect I should have probably changed to another make but I didn’t. By the time it was installed CASC had decided to change the Canadian Championship to Formula Cars which basically devalued any sports racer big time. It was a sore point as the drivers were not consulted. Although most of us were against the change it was in retrospect the correct decision. Anyway I decided to sell the Elva and did plan to buy a formula car, probably a Formula Ford. It took a while but the Elva did sell but after I paid off my debts I was still broke.
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Naughty, naughty

The recent picture of the late John Gunn enjoying a drink, obviously after trouble at some race, brought back a memory.

The Burlington Autosport Club had a race at Harewood Acres in 67 and were paying some prize money. Not much but better than nothing which was the norm in those days. Even the Canadian Championship Series races did not pay any money and to run the series you raced from BC to Quebec. Normally the only money races were the Can Am races and maybe one or two others with US and European drivers.

Things were different then and advertising on cars had only been very recently permitted. Sponsorship was almost non existant and usually was somebody’s own company. There were a few paid drivers but nobody in Canada was making a living racing sports cars. John Cordts tells in his book ‘Blood, Sweat and Turnips’ how he survived the winter on turnips and soup bones. John Cannon was reputed to never stay in the same motel twice!

My sponsorship consisted of free oil (Valvoline) and Redex products. I had a 9 to 5 job and was lucky that my boss let me take my holidays on Fridays so I could go to practice. No Sunday racing back then. The BAC race was to me important as I was really broke and living from pay to pay. I owed a bundle.

For some reason the entry was not all that strong and I figured I could probably get a little money as they were paying down to tenth, which I think was $10. First was $250. That was about 3 weeks salary! As I usually finished in the top ten even at a well supported Canadian Championship race I hoped for a reasonable chunk.
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Beginning Interest in Aero

I first became interested in road racing when I was 14. I wanted to be a driver and had delusions of F1. I read all I could and conned rides to races when I was able to. I had no real interest in things mechanical and wasn’t really interested in shop. Basically I was a mechanical klutz.

I do see that today quite a large number of drivers are ‘arrive and drive’ but in my day they were a real rarity. Even I always towed my car to the track and got dirty even if I didn’t have a clue. Almost all drivers worked on and many prepared their own cars. At first I raced my own MGA and all work was done at Murray Motors or later Shelton Mansell.
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Elva Mk6 vs Porsche 904 at Mosport in 67

In 1967 in a race at Mosport in my 1100cc Elva Mk6 Climax I was gradually catching the Porsche 904 driven by either Ray Brezinka or Horst Peterman. I am not sure who was driving. Now there was no way the little Elva should be anywhere near that Porsche!

Anyway I caught up and made a couple of pass attempts but as it was far faster on the straights I was having little luck. Every time down the pit straight I was shaking my fist hoping to get a reaction from the officials and being ignored.
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