The WPI/NTPA office has been notified of the passing on Sunday, January 10 of Estol F. "Sonny" Leonard Jr., 77, of Lynchburg, Virginia. Mr. Leonard was the founder and owner of Sonny's World Class Racing, a manufacturer of high-performance engines designed chiefly for drag racing and naturally aspirated Four-Wheel-Drive Truck pulling.
Mr. Leonard and his wife Frances started Sonny's Garage in 1968 with $300 and a two-stall workspace in downtown Lynchburg, where he wrenched on everything from hot rods to farm trucks. Realizing that he needed to develop machine-shop skills to do the custom work to grow his performance business, he took night classes while working days and weekends. When he outgrew the downtown location, his expanded facility included shop space dedicated to competition engines, including diesels. Today, Sonny's is housed in a 14,000-square-foot edifice and employs 16.
Mr. Leonard became widely known as an expert builder of "mountain motors," so named for their large displacement in relation to street-stock vehicles. For dozens of event- and championship-winning NTPA truck pullers, the engines Sonny's produces are at the 650-cubic inch specification; for racing applications, they routinely exceed 700 cubes.
In a 2018 article in the Lynchburg News & Advance celebrating the semicentennial of his business, Mr. Leonard described how he actualized his dream from those humble beginnings. "When I think back to my time in that little 300-square-foot building where I started...a year later, we didn't know if we'd make it or not. But you had to have that drive. I had nobody to fall back on. My wife understood that I might not make it back for that 6 o'clock dinner."
Visitation for Mr. Leonard's family and friends is scheduled for Wednesday, January 13 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Whitten Timberlake Chapel, 7404 Timberlake Road, Lynchburg, Virginia 24502. A service celebrating his life will be conducted on Thursday at 1 p.m. at Thomas Road Baptist Church, 1 Mountain View Road in Lynchburg. His full obituary may be viewed here.
Our sympathies are with Mr. Leonard's family, friends, employees, and many customers among the NTPA's competitors.