In the hospital last month suffering from pneumonia, Sonny Leonard, Sonny’s Racing Engines’ president and CEO, passed away on Sunday, January 10, 2021. The engine shop broke the news on Facebook that it’s owner, founder and legendary engine builder, Sonny Leonard, had died. He was 77.
Sonny Leonard’s name is synonymous with big-inch mountain motor Pro Stock and Pro Modified racing. Leonard opened Sonny’s Racing Engines in 1968 in Virginia, and the shop is known for 700 cid to 1,000 cid engines for drag racing, truck pulling, extreme muscle car, and boat applications.
Leonard’s accomplishments as an engine builder are vast. He was a 13-time IHRA Pro Stock world champion and holds countless world records, event victories, and championships in drag racing and truck pulling spanning half a century. Leonard also built the first 800-plus cubic-inch engine and the first 500 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet, developed the GM hemispherical cylinder head, and the 5.3-inch bore space wedge cylinder head. In recent years, his team built a massive 1,005 cubic-inch mill, the largest such engine to be built for drag racing.
Leonard last updated his social media on December 28, noting that he was in the hospital suffering from pneumonia, but was showing considerable sign of improvement.
The staff at Sonny’s Racing Engines, in a prepared statement said: “As most of you have heard , unfortunately Sonny passed away this morning. He will will be deeply missed beyond what words can describe, but we want to reassure our customers that Sonny’s Racing Engines will continue to thrive and remain open for business.”
Sonny’s Racing Engines celebrated 50 years in 2018, and we here at Engine Builder have had the distinct honor of knowing Sonny and speaking with him about several engine builds over the years. You can see those stories below.