Oldest Harness Racing Driver, Leo Burns, Dies At Age 98

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Published on July 15 2013 5:45 pm
Last Updated on July 15 2013 5:45 pm
Written by Millie Lange

Leo Burns, a 98-year-old Albion resident, died at 11:58 p.m. Saturday, July 13 at Wabash General Hospital in Mount Carmel. Burns was known for his harness racing abilities, especially at age 97 when he drove then eight-year-old Winsome Wyoming to victory last year at the Wayne County Fair and again at the Edwards County Fair.

That made Burns the oldest known winning driver in the sport of harness racing. Burns had more than 450 career wins and he is credited with earnings of over $400,000 in nearly five decades of racing. He was a member of the Illinois Harness Racing Association, the U.S. Trotting Association and the Albion Moose Lodge.

He was born February 21, 1915 in Tama, Iowa and married his wife Marjorie Mann June 12, 1946. She died in September of 2003.

As reported in a New York Times article in 2011, Burns and his wife, Marjorie, traveled the Illinois fair track circuit for decades together scratching out a living with their small stable of standardbreds. When his wife fell ill in the late 1990s, Burns stopped competing and devoted most of his time caring for her. After she died, he needed something to fill the loneliness and he went back to harness racing.

That would have been when Burns turned 89. He drove a horse to a win in a $1,000 race at Albion. Then Winsome Wyoming came along and his career and life turned around. He paid $2,600 for her at a yearling sale in 2005 and since then the pair became a winning duo.

There was a moment of silence during the post parade for opening harness racing at the Wayne County Fair. Visitation for Burns will be from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 17 at Nale's Funeral Home in Albion. A graveside service will be conducted at 10 a.m. Friday, July 19 at Rose Hill Memorial Gardens in Marshalltown, Iowa.

He is survived by sons Douglas Vavra of Laurel, Iowa and Ed Burns of Marshalltown, Iowa, five grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.