Roland Leong, NHRA Team Owner, Tuner Dies at 79

Jackson Wheeler
4 Min Read


Legendary NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel team owner and engine tuner Roland Leong—known throughout the sport for more than three decades as both “The Hawaiian” and “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”—died Friday at the age of 79.

Leong had reportedly been in declining health in recent months. He passed away just hours before reports of the death of retired IndyCar driver and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran.

Leong’s colorful nicknames were tributes to his birthplace in the Hawaiian Islands. The native of Honolulu also had sponsorship from both Hawaiian Punch and King’s Hawaiian Bread, two additional tributes to his native land.

1965 nhra nationals indianapolis

Roland Leong, left, helped Don Prudhomme win the 1965 NHRA U.S. Nationals.

The Enthusiast Network//Getty Images

While Hawaii was his home and where he first achieved local racing notoriety, Leong moved to the U.S. mainland—and in particular, Southern California—in the early 1960s to make his name in the world of drag racing. It wasn’t always easy for someone of Asian descent, but Leong became not only a fan favorite, but also was among the most respected owners and crew chiefs among his competitors.

In addition to his own time racing dragsters, Leong also had a number of noted drivers behind the wheel of his cars, including Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who said of Leong to National Dragster several years ago:

“I guess I always wanted a little brother. He was just like me. All we cared about was drag racing and cars. Even though I had a lot more experience than him, I really felt like we were equals. I think he looked up to me a little more than I realized at the time, but it wasn’t like I was the boss or anything.”

Leong campaigned his Funny Car and Top Fuel rides not only in NHRA competition, but also was a fan favorite while “match racing” – barnstorming at various racing events in both the U.S. and Canada.

In 1991, Leong’s Funny Car became the first to break the 290-mph speed mark in NHRA competition. His cars also won numerous NHRA marquee events including the U.S. Nationals, the season-opening Winternationals and the World Finals.

According to NHRA.com, Prudhomme spent several hours Thursday afternoon—less than a day before Leong’s passing—visiting with Leong, reminiscing about their careers.

“He was my buddy, my brother,” Prudhomme told NHRA.com on Friday after learning of his close friend’s passing. There’s probably no one in this sport that I was closer to than Ro. I’m so sorry to see him go, but at least he’s no longer suffering. I’m going to miss him.”

Fittingly, Leong was recently inducted into the Hawaii Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Of his career, particularly his match racing days, Leong told National Dragster, “It was an experience; for the age we were, it was a helluva experience. We saw a lot of the country, and after we’d been on the road for so long, we got to know people in almost every town, and we’d do something with them whether it was to go to their house for dinner or go out and do things with them. For me, it was the experience of a lifetime.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X/Twitter @JerryBonkowski



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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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