Internationally recognised Willowbank Raceway official John Winterburn.
Internationally recognised Willowbank Raceway official John Winterburn.

Tribute to Willowback Raceway founder, hall of famer

THE drag racing community is mourning the loss of Queensland motorsport icon John "Stomper'' Winterburn.

His passing comes just four days after he was inducted in to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Stomper was the second Australian to receive that prestigious honour.

He was one of the founding members of Willowbank Raceway.

Willowbank Raceway officials and Dragnews Magazine have offered a timely tribute to a man who devoted his life to the sport.

Winterburn's sudden passing has come as a shock to the industry, arriving so shortly after the announcement that he would be honoured for his lengthy and meritorious service to the sport with induction into International Drag Racing Hall of Fame for 2021.

Winterburn's contribution to Queensland and Australian drag racing involved an unmatched 54 continuous years of service.

He began his connection with the sport in 1966, aged 17, when he volunteered to be an official at the opening event of Surfers Paradise International Raceway.

He spent 21 years as an official at Surfers, 15 years as that track's meeting director, then when Surfers closed, was Willowbank Raceway meeting director for 14 years.

Winterburn was a member of the Willowbank Raceway management committee for 35 years, the first 32 of which he was president of the board. He stood down from the board in 2017, but remained an official at the track.

Willowbank Raceway official John Winterburn (right) performing one of his many drag racing duties.
Willowbank Raceway official John Winterburn (right) performing one of his many drag racing duties.

On April 10, 2016, at the former site of Surfers Raceway, Willowbank Raceway made a presentation to Winterburn to acknowledge 50 years as an official.

The plaque read: From the moment John Winterburn answered a request to help out at the first meeting at Surfers Raceway in 1966, he devoted his life to the goal of drag racing excellence. He exerted an enormously positive impact on the sport through his dedication, selfless commitment and organisational skills. This lifetime endeavour went hand-in-hand with a level of integrity that was beyond reproach.

In 2017, the board of management appointed Winterburn the first Lifetime Patron of Willowbank Raceway and also presented him with a silver ring in recognition of his valuable contributions to drag racing.

Willowbank Raceway president Tony Wedlock said Winterburn was there from the start of drag racing at Surfers. When he and Willowbank's first manager Dennis Syrmis realised Surfers would not survive development on the Gold Coast, they were instrumental in helping get Willowbank off the ground.

"So, Stomper was also there from the very start of Willowbank,'' Wedlock said.

Stomper is also remembered as one of the 'Willowbank Seven' from the management committee who signed mortgage documents guaranteeing a bank loan that allowed them to pave the racetrack. That's dedication, putting your money where your mouth is and we would not be here if not for Stomper and the others like him.

"This is international recognition for the enormously valuable role Stomper has played in the development of drag racing, not just in Queensland, but in Australia, because the fantastic success of the sport in this state led to a strengthening of drag racing Australia-wide and Stomper was a huge part of that," Wedlock said.

"As far as drag racing goes, Stomper is a national treasure and this recognition is most appropriate and well deserved.

"The time and the effort Stomper has spent in the service of the sport is unparalleled and will never be surpassed. He has devoted all his adult life working towards the goal of drag racing excellence and he certainly achieved that."