The Chequered Flag Lowered on the Life of a Champion – Leo Geoghegan

Over 500 members of the motor racing community, family and friends farewelled a true gentleman and one of Australia’s greatest drivers - Leo Geoghegan - at Hoxton Park Anglican Church on March 10.

Adorning the forecourt of the church were a variety of cars representing types that Mr Geoghegan raced in his career and amongst them was a Valiant Pacer, several Valiant Chargers, a Lotus Elite, two Lotus Elans, two Daimler SP 250’s and an early Lotus single seat sports car. 

Mr Geoghegan was born on the 16th May, 1936 and from humble beginnings rose to the top of his chosen sport and became one of Australia’s greatest sportsmen. 

He left school at the age of 14, due to the failing health of his father and went to work in the family business at a service station and taxi company on the Hume Highway Landsdowne near the Landsdowne Bridge. 

After early family interests in horses, their direction changed to a passion for cars and car racing. 

One of the tales Mr Geoghegan used to love to tell was of his first race.

Following in his father’s footsteps, aged 17 in 1953, Mr Geoghegan was driving his father Tom’s highly modified FX Holden at the Gnoo Blas circuit at Orange, NSW.

His father was driving a recently imported Jowett Jupiter in the same race.

The theory was for Tom to lead and Mr Geoghegan to follow and learn the way.

With youthful exuberance Mr Geoghegan found a spot on the track and raced past his father, until he was sternly ordered into the pits and ordered to change cars, his father finishing the race in second place in the Holden. 

As a promising career in motor racing beckoned Mr Geoghegan, his father Tom and younger brother Ian “Pete”, realised its potential of elevating their business profile, but it would require a great deal of money to be successful. 

The French company, Total, had teams in Australia searching for oil.

Tom capitalised on the opportunity and offered them a franchise in the form of a fuel bowsers and products to supply his fleet of taxis; in return they would provide sponsorship for the “Geoghegan Racing Team”.

Their cars were painted in a stunning shiny black finish adorned with a subtle red, white and blue Total flag on the front, as they were the first to acknowledge sponsorship on their cars as it was not permitted to show any form of advertising on the cars at the time. 

The family and business moved to Liverpool, with the famous Warwick Farm Race track not far away,  and became the scene of some of Mr Geoghegan’s greatest triumphs. 

During his long career he raced in 63 different types of cars - sometimes 3 in one day -  from the FX Holden to the Repco powered Lotus 39 single seater, breaking lap records, circuit records, state and Australian titles, laurel wreaths, trophies and awards came his way. He was praised for his consistent good sportsmanship and his smooth effortless style was to be admired. 

When Mr Geoghegan and his brother started their own business “Geoghegan Sporty Cars” on Parramatta Road Haberfield they were able to secure the very lucrative franchise for selling Lotus cars on Australia’s east coast. 

Growing recognition of Leo’s skill enabled the Geoghegan brothers to secure Castrol sponsorship and they painted their cars white with Castrol green and gold striping – presentation was always forefront in their minds.

The winning formula for the Geoghegan’s was careful planning, excellent engineering and great skill on the track. 

While brother “Pete” tended to favour saloon cars, like the black Lotus and GT Cortinas and the highly recognisable Ford Mustangs, Leo was favouring the more pure form of racing in sports cars and open wheel racers taking many to victory in Australia and New Zealand. 

During the Australian summers of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s when the European F1 season was in winter recess the Tasman Series was created.

This gave local drivers the opportunity to race against the world’s best talent that included world champions Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and others. 

Mr Geoghegan was joined by Kevin Bartlett, Frank Gardner, Spencer Martin, Johnny Harvey, and Sir Jack Brabham, Kiwi drivers included Chris Amon Bruce McLaren, Graeme Lawrence and Denny Hulme.

In one race the highlight was when Mr Geoghegan came second to the reigning world champion Jim Clark.

One of his greatest triumphs was at the inaugural Japanese JAF Grand Prix [Mt Fuji] in 1969 when Leo beat the European champions.

The following year he won the coveted Australian Gold Star for racing drivers and life couldn’t have been better. 

Mr Geoghegan was instrumental in Ford’s racing programme development of the Falcon GT, he advised and directed Chrysler in the development of the Pacer and Charger racing programmes, while still racing himself he was the principal driver for Chrysler in 1970-1972. 

He was the only driver to race for the factory teams of Ford, Holden and Chrysler. 

With a growing family and business commitments Mr Geoghegan  decided to stay in Australia instead of racing on the European circuit. 

In the mid-1980s, Mr Geoghegan made a track comeback of sorts when he raced a Mitsubishi Starion turbo in the Winton 300 and entered some major production car events.

He was a keen advocate of the current historic car races, life member of the A.R.D.C. and Patron of the Chrysler Car Club he was also in demand as a guest speaker at car clubs until ill-health intervened.

He lived in Camden for many years before moving to Leichhardt where Leo lost his long battle to Prostate Cancer on 2nd March 2015.

He is survived by his sister Marie Louise, widow Del, his four children Stephen, Shaun, Roslyn and Naomi and seven grandchildren. 

Mr Geoghegan was an absolute gentleman, a great driver, mentor and friend, always willing to give of his time, and never critical of his rivals.

He will be sadly missed. 

I am sure he is up there saying “Hang on fellas, I’ve just got one more story for you”.