Photo Via Dan Ricks
In an industry where we toss around words like Superstar, Icon, Legend, etc. there are very few that can live up to labels. Ron Leek was one that lived up to all the accolades that have been showered upon him though. Unfortunately, we received the news yesterday that Ron, a true drag racing Icon, had passed away.
For those that don’t know who Ron was, he was the former track owner at Byron Dragway, along with being an amazing announcer, promoter, and in my opinion, a great human being. I had the pleasure of spending plenty of time at Byron starting in the 90’s and I don’t think I have ever met a drag strip owner that cared about his racers more than Ron did!
Statement from Byron Dragway:
It is with deep sadness that we at Byron Dragway mourn the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and mentor, Ron Leek.
Perhaps best known as the long time owner and announcer at Byron Dragway, Ron’s contributions to motorsports transcend the race track he called home for over fifty years.
A steward of the sport, Ron held various positions at numerous race tracks throughout the Midwest over the course of his illustrious career, including Oswego Dragway, Great Lakes Dragaway and Wisconsin International Raceway, before acquiring Byron Dragway in 1969. He carefully perfected his craft as a gifted promoter as he also packed stadiums across the United States promoting monster truck events. Ron’s charismatic personality shined brightly over the microphone, as an energetic announcer and true showman at countless drag strips, oval tracks, and NHRA events. He pioneered a seemingly endless list of groundbreaking events and forever revolutionized sportsman drag racing by promoting the first big money bracket race in drag racing history. Outside of racing, Ron also built a successful trucking company, R.L. Leek Industries Inc., which has been in business since 1971.
Ron has left an indelible mark on the sport of drag racing and a legacy that will live on forever. We extend our deepest condolences to Ron’s family.
Ron always seemed to have a smile on his face, even when he was yelling over the mic for people to slow down while coming down the return road. He had no issue calling you out over the mic if you were being stupid either. He’s a man that everyone seemed to respect, and early in life in motorsports I certainly appreciated someone that could call it like it was with a smile.
There was nothing like opening day at Byron Dragway for those of us that lived in the Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois area. Unlike drag racing in the south, we typically had to wait until at least the first week of April to even attempt to race. You can bet your ass that when opening day came around we’d be lined up for miles to get in, no matter how cold it still was.
As long as I can remember, Ron fought with the Ogle County Board in an attempt to add things like lighting and expanded racing hours. It was a battle that we all hoped that someday he would defeat those that didn’t care for racing or that didn’t appreciate the economic impact drag racers brought to the tiny town of Byron, IL. He managed to get some things done, but I don’t think nearly what he wanted.
I couldn’t begin to list off all the amazing events that I witnessed at Byron. Whether it was opening day test and tune, or the Outlaw Real Street event that featured NMRA Real Street drivers in 30 degree weather. They were also known for the World Wheelstand Competition, which for those that have never seen it is one of the best shows in all of drag racing.
The memories that Ron, his staff, and Byron Dragway have provided me over the years are numerous. And for that, I am eternally grateful! I wish that more track owners were like Ron Leek was. When BJ took over he has carried on that tradition, but there will never be another Ron Leek. To you I say, Rest Now, and keep your keen eye over all of us at the drag strip. You are going to be missed, and you were a true Icon and Legend!!