Cody Leonard on a roll in 2019
By Phil Whipple
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer (Photo By: Rachel Plant)
SINTON, Texas — With the short track season now in full swing across Texas and the surrounding states, the cream is already rising to the top. A handful of drivers have kicked off their new campaigns with multiple wins, including one young hotshoe with racing in his bloodlines.
Second generation driver Cody Leonard, of Sinton, has a trio of cars to pilot on a steady basis. He races in the talent-filled Sport Modified and Modified classes, yet also drives the No. 48 Late Model for Gary Swenson. Between the three cars, he's earned four wins, 10 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
“There is actually a lot of luck involved, and mine has been very good,” Leonard said. “I know a lot of people don't think so, but it's true. Especially with the situation we just had with our engines. There are some nights you don't know what's going to happen to the car. Maintenance during the week is huge.
“I think the biggest factor in our success so far this year is our dedication. It takes a lot of drive and energy to get results in this sport, and this team has that. It's really about hard work and a little luck to go with it. We've got good cars, we work hard to keep them fast, and so far, it's working out for us.”
Leonard, 21, started his racing career at the tender age of 7 in Go Karts like so many of his weekly rivals. At just 14, he stepped up to IMCA Sport Mods and won in his fifth start. Now in his 11th year driving full-size cars, Leonard is on the cusp of becoming a household name throughout the deep south.
“It's been an interesting ride coming up through the ranks,” Leonard added. “I had to pay my dues and learn how to race, like everybody else. I'm still chasing my dream of running a Super Late Model in a national touring series, so I still have goals to reach. I love what I'm doing now, but that's my dream.”
In dirt racing, there are more challenges to overcome than you can count. Constantly changing track conditions, weekly maintenance work on the cars, engine tuning and chassis setup adjustments are just a few of the major concerns.
“Keeping up with track conditions is definitely key,” Leonard explained. “You have to make the right changes to the car to maintain your speed and handling. If you make the wrong changes, you go with what you have. You can't overdrive the car and risk a crash, so you make it better the next time out.”
Leonard actually faces a unique challenge on race nights most others don't have to consider.
“Racing in more than one class means I have to adapt to each car quickly every time I strap in,” he explained. “If I don't adapt quickly, I'm going to lose a lot of spots just trying to get used to it. My Modified drives completely different than my Sport Mod, and the Late Model is different, as well.”
Leonard's father competed in the Factory Stock, Pure Stock and Modified classes during his days behind the wheel. For second-generation racer Cody, having the right people involved is key.
“First off I have to thank my parents, Darin and Brandy, for all they do for my racing program,” Leonard said. “They got me into this sport and have taken me to where I am now. They've really been behind me all the way and have provided the motivation to keep working hard.
“I also need to thank Bill Pittaway with C-D Electric. He's been with us a long while and does a ton for this race team. Gary and Chris Swenson are key to our program, they have excellent shocks and gave me the chance to drive their Late Model, which I love. Mike Morris with K&R is also a big help.”
Along with smart, organized and dedicated people to keep the program moving forward, every driver needs some level of financial support to stay active. Leonard has a fine group of marketing partners who make his efforts so successful.
“I also need to thank our partners, including CD Electric, Ace Transmission, Wright Reneau Law Firm, Reneau Farms, Mobilease, Swenson Racing Shocks, K&R Operating LLC, and Coastal Diesel. We couldn't do this without their support.”
Talented Modified veteran Chris Morris has raced against Leonard at least a handful of times, mostly at I-37 Speedway. The well respected driver out of Taylor, Texas, says Leonard is a formidable opponent.
“One thing I’ve noticed that makes Cody really good is that he’s very consistent,” Morris said. “He also performs very well under pressure, which makes him tough to beat. You have to bring your A Game.”
Last fall, the Swenson boys took Leonard to a Friday/Saturday doubleheader for Kody Hardage's Southern Texas Late Model Series (STLMS) at RPM Speedway and Devil's Bowl in Mesquite. The driver promptly went out and won both A Mains. He belongs in a SLM, and is already a proven winner.
“I'm really hoping that some day that Gary will take me to just one Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race to see if we can make the A Main. I'd love more seat time with an open motor, and feel I can wheel a Super Late Model at the highest level on down the road. I'm just blessed to have the rides I do.”
Photo Credit: Rachel Plant