Sirois was born into a racing family on April 16th, 1935 in Shelby,
Indiana. His folks, Earl 'Frenchy' and Fern, named him Leon Duray after an
Indy 500 driver his dad had admired. In his young years he was nicknamed
'Jigger' by his Dad and Sister, Eleanor, after a riding mechanic at the
Speedway, Jigger Johnson. Frenchy was a mechanic for numerous Speedway
cars and was on the Indy 500 winning crews in 1951 when Lee Wallard won in
the 'Lil 99 of Murrell Belanger from Crown Point and in back to back
winning cars owned by George Salih in 1957 & 1958 with Sam Hanks and
Jimmy Bryan the winning drivers.
Throughout Jigger's young life he had a dream of racing in and winning the Indy 500. While his folks supported him in his efforts to become a race driver, they never encouraged it, as they knew first hand how dangerous a sport it is and what a tough life it could create. While racing is still a very dangerous sport today, in those days it was a lot more dangerous. Jigger was once ridiculed for demanding that his midget racecar have a roll bar put on it.
Jigger's racing career started in 1956, when he drove in a jalopy heat race at the Illiana Speedway in Schererville, Ind. After that experience he pursued a ride in the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) which is now the United Midget Auto Racing Assn. (UMARA). He started racing midgets in 1957 at Joliet, Ill. for car owner Jack Sims of Crown Point.
In the late fifties and early sixties the UARA had some of the best midget racing in the whole country. A weekly show was run at the Joliet Memorial Stadium in Joliet, Ill. on Saturday nights and regular shows also at Raceway Park in Blue Island, Ill. on Friday nights and at O'Hare Stadium in Chicago, Ill. on Sunday nights. They also competed at a few other tracks in the Midwest.
Racing with this group were some of the finest drivers in midget car racing. Probably the most famous driver in midget history, Mel Kenyon, was getting his start here also. Every week you would find Bob Tattersall, Danny Kladis, Ray Elliott, Russ Sweedler, Warren Schiebe, Johnny Riva, Bob Hauck, Tony Lenti, Newt White, Willy Wildhaber, George Sellery, Willy Wilson and numerous other very fine race drivers competing for the wins.
In 1961 Jigger started driving for Larry White of Lockport, Ill. and they became the team to beat. Driving the yellow #82 they raced in 49 features and finished 46 of them. Winning the track championships at Joliet, Raceway Park, O'Hare, & Sterling, Ill.. In the 49 shows, Jigger won 17 heats, 6 trophy dashes and 8 features. Having a very consistent year, he finished in the top 6 in 37 of the 46 features he finished. This won him the overall 1961 UARA Championship and proved to be the start of a very exciting racing career.
Some new opportunities opened up in 1962 and Jigger started competing with the USAC National Midgets. He became the driver of the Harry Turner #21 and in his first race, which was the Night Before the 500, 100 lapper at the Indianapolis Speedrome, he led for about 70 laps before peeling the right rear tire and finished 6th. Throughout the summer he raced at tracks in the Midwest with some highs and it seems a lot more lows. As with all racing, luck is a big factor, and Jigger led many races only to have some bad luck. He always kept a positive attitude and continued to look towards his ultimate goal of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Staying in the top 8 in points throughout the summer, on September 17th, while racing in the feature at a 1/4-mile dirt track in Springfield, Ill., tragedy struck. On a personal note, this had to be one of the two toughest times of my life. Trying to pass another car on the outside he got pinched into the fence, got up over the other cars wheel and flipped end over end 8 or 9 times. This was before roll cages and the single roll bar caved in which left Jigger's body taking the punishment of the crash. He was taken out of the car unconscious and in very critical condition. He stayed this way for about a week. Although he had serious head injuries, a broken collar bone, a badly burned left arm from the exhaust pipe and numerous other injuries, our good Lord took care of him and spared his life. With a lot of rehabilitation, skin grafts and hard work, he was able to continue his racing career the next year.
During this time, Jigger had also picked up a ride in the Ralph 'Speedy' Helms #3 IMCA Sprint Car. This is where he crossed paths with such notables as Johnny Rutherford, Johnny White, Arnie Knepper, Jerry Reichert, Scratch Daniels, Jerry Blundy, Harold Leep, Gordon Wooley, Bob Hogel and many others. At this time, this was a natural step that could lead to Indy. In his first race after his near fatal crash, he won a heat race at the Florida State Fair in Tampa and he was on his way back, pursuing his big dream.
Over the next few years, Jigger raced midgets and sprints with some interesting highlights. He won a 100-mile midget race at the Milwaukee Mile. Ran in the Houston Astrodome in an open competition midget race, where he ran wheel to wheel with the legendary A.J. Foyt, getting nipped at the checkered flag by A.J. in a heat race. Won the championship in an open competition midget series in Daytona Beach, Fla. Raced at State Fairs in Minn., Wis., Ill., Iowa, Ind., Mo., Ohio, and Fla.
Who were your favorites? If you'd like information on how
Copyright © 2001 - 2009
TheVintageRacer.com. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 01/26/2009 10:35 PM