One of Midget racing’s most talented performers, Leigh Earnshaw Jr. (March 19, 1946) of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, was the son of a racing-car driver who watched his father compete at the old Sanatoga (Pa.) Speedway. Then, once he got his chance to get behind the steering wheel of a Quarter-Midget in 1958, he found that he liked the competition so much that there was nothing else that he wanted to do other than be a racing-car driver, himself.
It took a few years before Earnshaw was able to enter the world of professional racing, however, but once he did he gravitated towards the Mighty Midgets and it was in 1968 when he really began to make his presence known in that kind of racing.
Once that situation finally presented itself, Earnshaw got some of the sport’s best rides and in the early 1970s he drove the first-class Offy-powered machines that were fielded by noted car owner and fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Ken Brenn Sr. in both United States Auto Club Midget and Championship Dirt Car competition.
Things, however, really got going for Earnshaw’s career when he began driving fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Ed Darrell’s white No. 83 Offy-powered machine. With this ride he hit his stride and showed that he had what it took to run with the best and with such a good car under him he went out and won three-consecutive (1973-1975) American Racing Driver’s Club Championships for himself and his car owner.
But Midget racing was not the only brand of open-wheel competition that the popular Earnshaw competed in as he also made the rounds in the highly-charged world of winged and wingless Sprint Car racing.
This addition to Earnshaw’s racing schedule began in the early 1970s and in 1971 he competed in 13 USAC Sprint Car races with Robert Finn’s Finn-ish Touch Salon No. 27 Chevrolet-powered entry. And he also had his own No. 82 Chevrolet-powered winged Sprint Car that he raced throughout the East.
All of this racing and traveling around to various tracks almost came to a tragic end in 1976 when he was involved in a violent accident at the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds where his car flipped 20 times.
It goes without saying that Earnshaw was hospitalized for the treatment, yet he tried to come back to the sport just a few weeks later as he and his partner had planned to run nationally. But it actually took about a year for him to completely recover from the injuries that he suffered to his neck and shoulders from the mishap.
However, he did some back to race again and highlighted that return in 1980 when he won his fourth ARDC Championship
Then, after the 1984 racing season, he decided that he had accomplished just about all that he was going to do as a racing-car driver and that it was just time for him to quit.
Although Earnshaw is best remembered for his ARDC career, he was also one of the top drivers in New England’s North East Midget Association and one of his best rides in that series was in the Kurtis-Kraft Offy fielded by Mike Scrivani.
There was another series in which he was also quite good and that was with the All-Star Outlaw Midgets that was created by Darrell and was a regular Sunday attraction for many years on the one-third-mile high banks at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania.
The winner of 46 races with ARDC, Leigh Earnshaw won some 70 Midget races overall in what amounted to a 15-year career. He was unquestionably one of Midget racing’s biggest stars of the 1970s and 1980s.