Roland Leong, one of the most successful NHRA team owners of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, will be enshrined into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in May at the Honolulu Country Club.
Leong will be joined by fellow inductees surfer Ben Aipa and world champion racquetball player Egan Inoue in the hall’s Class of 2020.
Leong’s driving career was brief, just 8.01 seconds to be exact. That’s the time it took the then-20-year-old to speed down Lions Drag Dtrip at 191 miles per hour and crash when he couldn’t find the parachute release. The accident convinced the Hawaii-born Leong that his proper place in the high-speed sport wasn’t behind the wheel but as a member of the pit crew as an engine tuner and car owner. He soon teamed with another youngster, drag racing legend-to-be Don Prudhomme to win both the NHRA Winternationals and the U.S. Nationals in 1965. Leong repeated the double win a year later, taking the prestigious races again in 1966, this time with driver Mike Snively behind the wheel.
In the early 1970s, Leong started racing Funny Cars, which were starting to dominate the drag racing scene at the time. His cars, with “Hawaiian” prominently spelled out in bamboo-styled letters on their sides, became a standard to strive for in the sport, as Leong became known as a fierce competitor and perfectionist who left nothing to chance.
Leong eventually duplicated his back-to-back wins at Winternationals with two different drivers. In 1991, Leong and his driver, Jim White, had one of the most dominating performances in history when they won the “Big Bud Shootout” and the U.S. Nationals and became the first Funny Car to run over 290 miles per hour.
These three inductees will bring the total number of Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame Members to 158.
“The 2020 Induction Class covers a wide variety of pursuits, exemplifying Hawai‘i’s unique and profound impact on the sports world,” said Larry Price, Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame’s Chair. “It is our honor and privilege to welcome Ben Aipa, Egan Inoue and Roland Leong to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame family. We are excited to begin working with them as we gear up for the Induction Ceremony this May.”