Leno: Some people are born racers. I’m not


In 2005, I had Paul Newman on The Tonight Show, and as he wasn’t necessarily a chatty guy on the talk shows, we decided we’d have a little race in go-karts. In those days, NBC’s studio here in Burbank had these huge vacant halls literally a half mile long because, in its heyday, it had 10 shows going on at one time. By the 2000s, most of the productions had moved elsewhere. We shot The Tonight Show in the late afternoon, and because I knew we were going to be racing, and because Newman was pretty good at it, I was at NBC all day practicing, hitting 40 mph, sliding around on the linoleum floors. Well, Newman walked in there that day stone cold. He looked at the karts with those steely blue eyes and then, at 70 years old, absolutely kicked my butt. We ran them a few times, and he always won.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/05/14/some-people-are-born-racers-jay-leno-is-not

I’m impressed about Sir Stirling Moss being able to read a newspaper from 20 feet. Reminds me of another great driver but different venue - Tommy Ivo. I visited him a few years ago and that evening the space station passed over head. He was nearly 80 years old but could discern the solar panel winglike structures. I saw just a fast moving bright spot!

1 Like

Count your blessings Jay, very few of us have played footsies with Parnelli Jones at 120 mph. You might be the only one.

1 Like

My respect for Jay increases with every article, every show. A man has to know his limitations - Harry Callahan.

1 Like

I truly appreciate Mr Leno’s honest evaluation of his abilities as a racer and as a different kind of car guy. I am in the same group. While I certainly respect and appreciate the talent it takes to be a great driver, I’m not drawn to that myself. I grew up in a Hudson garage in the early ‘50s when Hornets were dominating stock car racing. My Dad was the best Hudson mechanic in our area and worked with several local racers, so I spent many, many weekends at the dirt tracks of southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and Wisconsin. It was old school racing, nothing like today’s NASCAR, but the drivers and crews were passionate and enthusiastic. I enjoyed seeing the camaraderie and the excitement but never had a great desire to be part of it, at least not as a driver. That said, I loved the cars of that era and still do. In fact, if it has two wheels and handlebars, or three or four tires and a steering wheel, I probably love it. I’m still, in my heart, a Hudson guy but I love all of them, from 1880s to 2019s. After the Hudson dealership closed, my Dad went on to work as service manager at the local Edsel garage and, in the ‘60s, at the Oldsmobile garage and later at the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. Great days and great cars, from seemingly everywhere in those days! One of my greatest disappointments in life took place about twenty years ago… at the time I was National President of the Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club and Mr Leno had just purchased his Hornet coupe from Bill Albright, a noted Hudson restorer in Fontana, CA, and a friend of mine. Bill and Jay’s head mechanic at the time - sadly, I don’t recall his name -hit it off pretty well as genuine old car guys do. Bill somehow wangled an invitation for me to visit Mr Leno’s garage… Nirvana for an old car guy, right? A few days before I was supposed to head for LA, I blew out two discs in my back and ended up in the hospital, followed by most of a month in bed which, of course, didn’t allow my Golden Trip to take place. To my eternal dismay, We were never able to get the visit rescheduled and so it remains a bucket list item. Guess I’ll just keep watching “Jay Leno’s Garage” and enjoy that magnificent collection from a distance. Thanks for a fun and insig

htful article.

1 Like

I really like Jay Leno, I get a huge kick out of his show “Jay Leno’s Garage” and although I have never met him he just seems to be one of those genuine guys that seem so far and few between any more.

One of the things that I really like about Jay is the fact he knows his limitations, even watching his show, he does not fake being something he is not. Ultimately he enjoys and appreciates cars like no one else I have ever seen, it does not matter what it is, “if it has wheels it is awesome.”

1 Like

Great color on your Hudson, my first car was a 47 Hudson Super Six 2dr sedan. Was 13 when I bought it in 1981. I still have it! I think the spirit of old cars and those interested in them is less about values and more about how they keep our interest for any number of reasons, technology, nostalgia, the driving experience.


Never was much of a Leno fan until I started watching some of the Leno’s garage series. Got to see a whole different side of him with a passion for cars that I share. You get to see the real Jay Leno and his personality.
One episode that stood out was the Tucker. Seeing it running down the road was pretty special. At a Cherry Festival in Traverse City they had one on display. Close as I’ll ever get to the drivers seat of one of those.
He’s definitely one of the car guys I’d like to meet and tour his garage. Never seen a steam powered car or the early electric ones.
Don’t know which part would be better - some of the odd cars, or just him telling about the quirks some have or why he wanted one.