Leonard Abbott: Drag Racing’s Prince of Transmissions

Leonard Abbott may not have his own Wikipedia, but he has something he'd likely value more: a spot in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

And while he was a racer for much of his youth, Abbott found his calling, and made the biggest impact, on the business side of the sport.

After racing at tracks around Southern California from the '40s to the '60s, Abbott teamed up with Jack Jones, who won the U.S. Nationals in 1968 and the NHRA Top Gas championship in 1969, to start the business that would become Lenco Racing Transmissions.

Together, Jones and Leonard first developed the under-drive transmission, a well-received alternative to the over-drive transmission that allowed racers to use a lower rear end ratio to achieve the same gearing. Jones and Leonard would also work on the air shifter, a clutch unit that altered the how race car drive trains would be set up, an over-drive fitted fuel pump for the fuel-burning classes and a number of other projects.

Leonard is also credited with pioneering the idea of using port nozzles on a fuel dragster, though he wouldn't see this idea to fruition. While it was eventually perfected and marketed, miscalculations in his original design caused a test engine to explode, which put Leonard off to the pursuing the idea.

"I don't know what to say about Leonard's personal life except that he didn't have one," Jack Jones said following Leonard's introduction to the Hall of Fame in 2011. "Leonard's life was his business. He was probably the most honest, kind-hearted, hard-working guy I've ever met, a prince of a man."

Today, more than 40 years after his original design, Abbott's two-speed underdrive for fuel cars is used in, or as the basis for, the underdrive in a majority of Alcohol Dragsters and Alcohol Funny Cars. As a result, Abbott's legacy continues to live on more than a quarter century after his untimely death to cancer.