The 1965 USAC Champ Car Season
May 1965 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - For the 1965 running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes Joe Leonard was entered in a rear-engine Halibrand Ford (above) as Part of the All-American Racers for the legendary Dan Gurney. Joe qualified the #29 car in 27th spot on the outside of row nine. Unfortunately, an oil leak forced Joe out of competition after only 27 laps. Joe was awarded $7,816.00 for his 29th place finish. Jimmy Clark became the first driver to win the Indy 500 in a rear-engine machine.
I met Ray in 1965, my rookie year at the Speedway. He came by the garage and was looking at my car, which was facing out. "Come on in and get a closer look" I said. He kind of reminded me of my Grandpa who used to take me to the midget races in San Diego, CA. where I grew up.
June 6, 1965 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin - No oil leaks for Joe at the Milwaukee 200 a week later. Joe piloted the All-American Racers #29 to a career best 2nd place finish behind race winner Parnelli Jones. Joe started the race in a career best 4th spot. Joe picked up $5,952.00 and 160 Championship points.
June 20, 1965 - Langhorne, Pennsylvania - The 100 mile race was not a good event for Joe Leonard and his All-American Racer. In the final practice session Joe proved that it was possible to flip a rear-engine racer after Al Unser clipped Joe's front end in turn one. Joe worked out a deal to drive the Moog St. Louis rear-engine Watson #2. Joe qualified the Watson in 9th spot. What happened in the race showcased Joe's sportsmanship and bravery. On lap twenty six (above), Mel Kenyon's engine exploded covering turn three with oil. Mel Kenyon was knocked out cold upon impact with the outside armco barrier and was impacted hard by Jim Hurtubise and Ralph Liguori as they slid in the oil. Joe was also caught up in the accident. Mel Kenyon's fuel tank was split and erupted into an inferno. As fire crews rushed over to extinguish the vacant cars of Hurtubise and Liguori, Joe dashed over to help Mel Kenyon who was burning alive, slumped over and unconscious, in his battered machine. Reaching into the inferno to untangle Mel's belts and attempt to pull Mel Kenyon to safety. Joe was credited with 19th place and awarded $147.00, above all, Joe was credited with saving Mel Kenyon's life on that hot June day at Langhorne. Jim McElreath won the race.
"I will always be grateful for Joe Leonard, who somehow saw me
and waded into sheets of flame to help me at Langhorne" - Mel Kenyon
July 18, 1965 - Trenton, New Jersey - Joe was back in the #29 All-American Racers Halibrand where he qualified for the Trenton 150 in 4th spot. In the race Joe finished 5th 2 laps down to winner A.J. Foyt. Joe picked up 150 Championship points and was awarded $1,248.00 in prize money.
July 25, 1965 - Indianapolis Raceway Park - This was Joe Leonard's first road course race in an Indy car and he did quite well. Joe qualified his #29 All-American Racers Halibrand in the 3rd starting spot just behind Mario Andretti & A.J. Foyt. Joe Leonard brought it home in one piece with a 10th place finish. Joe picked up another 45 Championship points and his share of $450.00. Mario Andretti was the winner.
August 1, 1965 - Atlanta, Georgia - Joe Leonard withdrew from this event after qualifying.
August 14, 1965 - Milwaukee Mile, Wisconsin - In only his twelfth USAC Indy car start Joe Leonard found himself a first-time winner on the USAC Championship Trail. Joe qualified his #29 All-American Racers Halibrand in the 5th starting spot. Parnelli Jones dominated the first 80 laps of the race until electrical problems forced him out of the race. Mario Andretti took over the lead, but for only one lap until Joe Leonard took over on lap 82. Joe had taken the lead in the race for the first time and never looked back, leading all the laps from 82 through 150. Joe had done it! His time for the 150-mile race was 1:32:31.15 at a race average speed of 97.276. Joe picked up 300 Championship points and his share of the $5,350.00 in prize money.
August 22, 1965 - Milwaukee Mile, Wisconsin - The Championship Trail returned to the Milwaukee Mile one week later, which had to make Joe smile! Unfortunately, things did not go quite as well for Joe as they had just one-week prior. Joe qualified his #29 All-American Racers Halibrand in the 10th starting spot and in the race he even led 23 laps, but with only 29 laps remaining, he lost the lead to Gordon Johncock and slipped to 5th. All in all, it was a good race for Joe, just not as good as last week. Joe picked up 200 more points and his cut of the $1,860.00.
September 26, 1965 - Trenton, New Jersey - Joe qualified the #29 All-American Racers Halibrand in the 6th starting spot, but A.J. Foyt showed no mercy to the other drivers as he lapped the entire field and led all 200 laps. The best Joe could do was finish 2nd.... which he did! Joe added 320 more points to his points fund and collected his share of the $4,254.00 in prize money.
November 21, 1965 - Phoenix, Arizona - In the season finale at Phoenix, Joe qualified the #29 All-American Racers Halibrand in the 9th spot. Joe never managed to lead a lap but he did bring it home in the 4th position one lap down to A.J. Foyt. Joe picked up 240 more points and $1,507.00.
Joe finished 6th in USAC National Champ Car points in 1965.