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50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Leo Cleary

50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Leo Cleary 1928-2017

In a career that spanned over 40 years, Leo Cleary won multiple races and championships at various different tracks in New England. He started his career at Seekonk in 1955 and it continued all the way through the early 1980s, when he won his final championships at the third-mile oval.

Cleary also competed at Medford Bowl, Lonsdale, Norwood, Catamount, and Westboro. Among active tracks, he raced at Thompson, Seekonk, Stafford, Martinsville, Oswego, Waterford, and New Smyrna, along with several others. Cleary won 15 feature events at Stafford, but never a track championship.  At the age of 63, Cleary suffered an injury while behind the wheel and decided to end his career in 1993. He was inducted into the NEAR Hall of Fame just six years later in 1999.

In his 44 years behind the wheel, Cleary took down 14 track championships, including the Norwood Arena, Seekonk, and Thompson. The championships came behind the wheel of jalopies, cutdowns, full coupes, modifieds, pro-stocks, and mini modifieds.

Despite a victory total that reaches well into triple digits, Cleary’s legacy will be his take-no-prisoners approach to the sport.  Aggravated after one Norwood crash, he threw a punch at the track’s most popular driver.  NASCAR Steward Carl Merril told Cleary the punch would cost him $50 so Cleary paused, punched his rival a second time and told Merrill “Make it $100.”