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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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David Leslie

Had the financial backing been available, David Leslie might very well have become a Formula 1 racing driver. So many competitors in what is regarded as the pinnacle of motor sport come from hugely wealthy families but he did not. He was an ordinary, unassuming lad from Annan who worked as a mechanic in Carlisle and who just happened to be a very good driver indeed.

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Only a week before he died in the air crash at Farnborough, in Kent, he had won a saloon car race at Silverstone and at the age of 54 his new career as an authoritative commentator on motor sport seemed to be set fair. He had, for example, become the well-known voice in satellite television broadcasts featuring the European Touring Car Championship and this was a branch of motor sport that was very close to his heart. For some years ago, he had been a British Touring Car Championship star, driving a Sunderland-built Nissan ‘Primera’.

He had been a Formula Ford 1600 champion, a Formula Ford 2000 champion, a Formula Atlantic champion and he had gone on to drive some very powerful sports cars from manufacturers such as Jaguar and Aston Martin, as well as fast machinery by Marcos and Honda.

He drove in the Le Mans 24-Hour race on 10 occasions and could have been killed when a tyre on his Ecurie Ecosse car burst as he was doing more than 180mph on the famous Mulsanne straight. He wasn’t lucky at Le Mans, where mechanical gremlins always seemed to be lying in wait for him.

His motor racing career began in west Cumbria when he was only 12, with karting on the Rowrah track and he never looked back.

He passed his driving test in Carlisle on his 17th birthday but he had been driving on public roads beforehand. When he was 16 he was out and about in a bright orange car, a Bond ‘Bug’ which had one wheel at the front and two at the back and could be driven on something less than a full licence. It had a 700cc engine but was so light that it could achieve alarming speeds – with even more alarming cornering characteristics. David’s car was a garage demonstrator and he took a customer for a spin. After he had cornered the vehicle on only two wheels the customer leapt out as soon as he was able and was never seen again!

At this time David was a mechanic, working for his father who managed the Grierson and Graham garage in Bridge Street. A part of the Grierson and Graham business in Dumfries, it was a FIAT agency and it was here that he bought his first car, a FIAT 127, which was, really a present for his fiancée Jane, who later became his wife. She was living in London at the time and used the six-year-old car to get to and from Carlisle and it always ran like clockwork.

Whilst he worked at the garage, he lived in Scotby but his burgeoning career in motor sport eventually took him away from the city and he rarely returned after the garage closed in 1990.

By then he was widely recognised as a very fine driver and he became a regular in the British Touring Car Championship, in which he competed from 1990 to 2003, winning nine races and driving cars from Vauxhall, Mazda, BMW, Honda, Proton and Nissan. In 1999 he was second in the title race.

He died when he was a passenger in a Cessna ‘Citation’ executive jet which crashed into an empty house in Kent on Sunday, shortly after taking off from Biggin Hill on a flight to a motor sport event at Pau in the south west of France. The two pilots and two other passengers also died .

Mr Leslie leaves his wife and two sons.

Although his home was in Banbury, it is hoped that his funeral will take place in Dumfries, on a date to be arranged.

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