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We loved you, Leo

Leo Geoghegan passed away on March 1, 2015Catalina_Leo

I first Leo Geoghegan at the 1963 Australian Formula Junior Championship meeting at Warwick Farm. I watched from the Creek Corner bank with my brother and my Dad. I was but a kid. I fell in love.

The black Lotus 22 was gorgeously low-slung. Its chromed suspension glistened in the spring sunshine. The downchanges, on every passing lap, were impeccable and identical. “Total Team Dvr: Leo Geoghegan” it said on its flanks. For his part, Leo was all straight, bare arms, black polo shirt, black helmet and split-lens goggles. Both the car and the driver, in living harmony, were immaculate.

Leo duly won the trophy, and the garland, and later, as the sun was fading over the Farm, we walked into the paddock, where the mechanics were packing up and the cars were being slowly pushed up their trailor ramps. I spied the Total Team flags. I ran to the tent, fearful that I would miss him.

The Lotus 22 was adorned by its garland. I peered down at the red bucket seat, the matching red steering wheel, the little gear lever on the right, complete with its Lotus badge. I drank it in. I was intoxicated. No-one could sit so low in the car, so reclined in the car; no-one could drive with so much elegance.   The whole was perfect and the details were better still. I had found my benchmark.

Then I saw Mr Geoghegan. He was drinking from a plastic cup. He was still wearing his polo shirt – complete, I now noticed, with Total badge. He was laughing with friends (his brother, Ian, I later realized, and David McKay). I nervously proffered my race programme. I could find only a blue Biro that I’d dropped during the excitement of the race. Leo asked me to hold his cup. I remember thinking how cold it was. He signed the cover, added “Lotus 22” below his name, and thanked me. The moment was captured forever in my autograph book.IMG

That summer, as a new member of the Total Racing Team Club, I received a Christmas card from Team Total, signed by Leo, Ian and Frank Matich. I still have it. And soon Dad’s Zephyr was resplendent with Total Team “racing stripes” – horizontal strips of blue, white and red. I was a part of the family. I was a Geoghegan fan of immense proportions.

His golden years, I think, came shortly afterwards. The Geoghegans were Lotus dealers, based in Liverpool. As such, they imported the latest editions of what was then the world’s best racing machinery and those of us who saw it knew that we were a part of something special. The 22 was replaced by Leo’s beautiful monocoque Lotus 27, the 27 by the 32 – now finished in equally-alluring white, with Total Team stripes, and then Castrol stripes, along the flanks. Nomex replaced the polo shirts, a Bell Star the Magnum. Still Leo was the svelte stylist – the fast racing driver who made it look gracefully but absurdly easy. I first saw the 32 up at Craven A corner at Catalina Park. I was struck by the contrast between the delicate beauty of the car and the harsh railway sleepers “protecting” the rock wall. Up against the F2 Brabhams of Greg Cusack and Bib Stillwell, Leo gave us some of the best single-seater racing (and driving) ever seen in Australia. You trembled with fear a few minutes before the flag-drop – and then they were upon you, darting through the Warwick Farm Esses, teasing the Armco barriers.

Next was the Jim Clark era: Jim’s Tasman cars were based at the Geoghegans’ garage over the Warwick Farm week – and Leo bought Jim’s 1966 race-winning Lotus 39. I’m usually appalled by drivers who butcher famous cars with new colours or engines or wings but nothing Leo did was bad. After a race or two with the Climax (below), he fitted a big Repco V8 into the back of it (top). The result was a gem of a car – the Lotus 39-Repco.

I could go on. Leo raced a Lotus 59 in Castrol white, also some touring cars, sports cars, single-seaters and even Lotus 7s. He was a major part of the Australian racing fabric. He set the bar in terms of preparation and presentation. He was a gentleman and he was a racer.

And he filled my still-young life with images that will never fade – with something that touched the centre of all that I love about motor racing but which, in later life, became impossible to reproduce.

Perhaps it was because I was a kid.

Perhaps it was because it was Leo.

8-24-2010 16-58-49_100My shot of Leo in the ex-Clark Lotus 39-Climax taken from my flag point at The Farm in 1967

Top: Leo in the gorgeous Lotus 39-Repco at Catalina.  Picture: Paul Hobson

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “We loved you, Leo

  1. Peter Bakalor on said:

    Ah, what memories. Sad to hear of his passing. You do write rather well, Mr. Windsor.

  2. Will on said:

    As usual, you hit the mark on this one.

  3. Geoff Edenborough on said:

    A hero to many I think along with his brother. I think you and I must have been at all the same meetings. I remember being in the pits at catalina watching at the tunnel of love and not being able to see anything of Leo as he passed beneath us, tucked so tight against the sleeper fence. What a driver ! I met Leo in the 90’s at Bathurst hillclimb where I was trying to do what he made look so easy. I found it wasn’t!!!

  4. David Clement on said:

    Hi Peter, Well spoken. Your memories of Leo and his cars bought back a flood of personal memories similar to yours, I remember proudly displaying the Total team stripes on my school case ( along with the mandatory Neptune trident team sticker), obtaining Leo and Petes autographs etc. All those beautiful Lotus 7,s kit cars, they would put one together, race it, sell it and repeat the process meeting after meeting, those WERE the days. Thanks for your email. Regards David Clement. PS. By the way Peter, do you have a postal address as I would like to send you a copy of my WF Tasman DVD and a copy of the photo I took with the AARC Cessna buzzing Jim Clark at the Farm. Date: Mon, 2 Mar 2015 11:38:10 +0000 To: dlk.clement@hotmail.com

  5. Rob Hazell on said:

    A beautifully insightful tribute to a driver who I never saw race, but always followed the British Motorsport press.

  6. Lyndon on said:

    Peter, beautifully written, and you have some lucky memories. Leo’s daaughter is a good friend, and for many birthdays I have been getting signed pictures that sit proudly in my study. He was an icon of the era.

  7. Beautifully crafted as ever Peter. Leo was very much my role model and perhaps unwitting mentor. I followed hm when he was given a “guest drive” in the Ken Goodwin Rennmax Formula Vee at Catalina Park. In qualifying, I followed Leo and this did no harm at all to my lap times. He is the Patron “Saint” of the NSW F.Vee Association and his presence was sorely missed at the recent 50th anniversary of F.Vee in Ausralia at Wakefield Park. In 1971 at the JAF GP at Fuji, he very kindly offered me some laps in his Lotus in practice. The organisers, quite rightly, declined to accept this proposition and Gaye was able to breath again. Leo and “Pete” were great fun to be with and they set the standard for many an aspiring racing driver. We will join many others at Leo’s funeral. Best regardsto yourself and those listed above… Geoff Edenborough, David Clement and “Will”.

  8. Aahhhh, what a post Peter,
    Starting with that absolutely beautiful analoge image, somehow modern camera’s and digital images can never capture “the moment” the way film can. It’s a living image, it’s alive and tells the story which captures my imagination far more than a frozen perfect image ever can.

    Then there is the subject of your beautifully crafted words, Leo Geoghegan. What a legend.

  9. Will Hagon on said:

    Peter,

    As always, lovely stuff, abounding with passion and a prodigious memory – or is it a good filing system?

    Leo Geoghegan was a lovely delicate driver, precise, tidy, ridiculously quick, often in cars that were in smaller classes or had smaller engines.

    I watched him win a GT race at Bathurst with that white Lotus Elite. Somehow around that rise and fall of 170 metres per lap he and his 1220cc-engined car managed to finish ahead of Bryan Thompson in a supercharged 2.4 litre Holden-engine Prad. I also heard him crunch a gear change on his slow down lap!

    Your pic of him at Catalina Park reminds me of him coming out on Sunday after a very wet Saturday practice and qualifying where the results had been amazing. Leo at that stage still had a 1.5l Lotus, along with all the usual exponents in that category. Fastest of all categories on a cold and very wet Saturday was Frank Matich in the Lotus XIX. Second fastest was Pete Geoghegan in the ‘Stang. I was standing near Pete when Leo came by in his Lotus.

    “Stand back,” said the big fella. “Here come the speed cars. Poor old fella,” Pete continued, to the amusement of me, Beechey and a couple of others gathered, “the STang was quicker than that yesterday.”

    Great drivers, great days.
    Will Hagon

  10. Chas C on said:

    Amazing that you catch the excitement still of a race 50 years ago as if its yesterday. And yes that Lotus/Repco looks stunning.
    This is a fantastic column.

  11. Steve on said:

    Peter, there are plenty of articles written about Leo, but your’s is probably the best. He’s my father in law and I’ve just emailed that link to my wife, who is very touched. Thank you.

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