John Winterburn Stands down from Willowbank Raceway Board
21 June 2017
John Winterburn stands down from Willowbank Raceway board after 35 years of service
After more than 35 years on Willowbank Raceway’s board of management, including 32 years as president, John “Stomper’’ Winterburn has stood down.
“I am approaching 70 and there are many interests I have outside of drag racing that I need to pursue at this time of my life,” Stomper said of his decision. “This does not mean I am walking away from Willowbank. After being involved from the very start, I could never do that, but there comes a time when you need to step aside and let others carry on.”
However, Stomper will remain as an official at the track. ``I have been on the roster for street meets and test 'n' tunes since I stepped down as president in 2013 and I still enjoy that very much,” he said.
Stomper is the longest serving official in Australian drag racing, with a total of 51 years spent in the service of the sport.
At the recent Gulf Western Oil 50th Winternationals, presented by the City of Ipswich, Stomper was honoured as the only person from the team of officials that ran the first Winternationals at Surfers Raceway in 1968 to still be in an active role as a drag racing administrator.
The board of management appointed Stomper the first Lifetime Patron of Willowbank Raceway and also presented him with a silver ring in recognition of his valuable contributions to drag racing.
Last year at the 50th anniversary of the opening of Surfers Raceway, Stomper was presented with a plaque in recognition of his half-century of service to the sport.
He was also meeting director in 1988 when the Winternationals was held for the first time at Willowbank Raceway.
His involvement in drag racing began when the then 17-year-old assisted at the opening event at Surfers Paradise International Raceway on April 10, 1966.
He went on to become meeting director at Surfers and Willowbank, as well as president of the inaugural Willowbank Raceway committee.
When it became obvious that Surfers would not survive as a race track, Stomper, with a number of others, formed a committee in late 1981 with the purpose of establishing a new venue.
Stomper spent 21 years as an official at Surfers Paradise International Raceway, 15 years as that track’s meeting director, then 14 years as Willowbank Raceway meeting director. In total, he spent 27 years as a meeting director, including two years in that role at both Surfers and Willowbank, the longest service by any race director in Australia.
Stomper has also been a member of the Willowbank Raceway management committee for more than 35 years, the first 32 of which he was president of the board.
``Right from the start, I was only ever interested in the organisational side of it,’’ he said. “I don't do rules or deal with engine problems. That might sound strange for someone who's been involved in drag racing for 50 years but there are people who are good in those areas and my idea has always been to let those specialists who know all about it deal with those matters.
``I never really wanted to race. I had a ride in Col Dunn's T-bucket at the back straight of Surfers and that cured me for life.
``But at race meetings, I've gotta be doing something. I can't just sit and watch races. So the roles I've played have suited that need to be busy. I enjoy what I do and I believe you are either a racer or an administrator.''
Speaking about his role in the establishment of Willowbank Raceway, Stomper said: ``When we saw the need for a new track, we took the opportunity to do something about it.
``Building Willowbank ourselves was hard work. We would get out there, draw up a job list and hand out the work as volunteers came in.
``It was four years of our lives, with hardly a weekend off.
``But it was great fun. We slept in tents and in the backs of cars in the early days and then, as buildings began to go up, we had more salubrious accommodation out there.''
He recalls that Willowbank was in what was called Drome View at that time, because Amberley Air Force base was nearby, but after the race track project got under way, then Moreton Shire councillor Jeff Cooper said that Willowbank sounded better than Drome View and he asked the council to change the locality name and it agreed. After that, it was not only the motorsports precinct that was known as Willowbank, but the area as well.
Stomper will also always be remembered as one of the Willowbank Seven from the management committee who signed mortgage documents guaranteeing the bank loan and he was also at a pivotal meeting that finally got Willowbank off and running.
By early 1985, the Willowbank organisers had built much of the infrastructure but had been rebuffed by banks for the $250,000 needed to bitumen the track because of the nature of the not-for-profit organisation seeking to build on leasehold council land.
``Bruce Casos, who was then working for the Moreton Shire Council, set up a meeting in the office of Bill Gunn, the local state member of parliament,” Stomper recalls.
``So, anyway, our manager Dennis Syrmis and I drove to Laidley to see Bill in his office and he said: ‘What can I do for you?'
``We said we needed $250,000 for bitumen so we could open the place and start to make some money.
``Bill asked us who we banked with. We said the ANZ. He picked up the phone and said to the person at the other end that he had with him the organisers from Willowbank Raceway, a project in his electorate, and then said, ‘I need you to give these guys $250,000. They bank through the Fortitude Valley branch.
``After that he just said, ‘You'll be right'. The meeting lasted probably a total of 15 minutes and as we drove back we were doubtful that anything would happen because of all the knock-backs we'd had before.
``But when we got back to the Willowbank office in the Valley there was a message on the answering machine from the Fortitude Valley ANZ bank to come and see the manager.
``He told us we could have the loan but the bank needed guarantees which amounted to about the value of seven people's houses.
``We went to the committee and asked for those prepared to put up their houses as collateral and seven stepped up.”
Willowbank Raceway president Tony Wedlock said: “Stomper has been involved in Willowbank through every facet of its existence, from the early planning stages, to the creation of the facility and finally his efforts in the ongoing management of the facility.
“His dedication, length of service, and ability to go above and beyond, in my opinion, will remain unsurpassed.
“It has been my honour to serve on the board with him, and I have taken great pride in getting to know the man behind the persona. For a bigger-than-Ben-Hur personality, his warmth and loyalty is a side not everyone gets to see. I respect his integrity immensely.
“Thank you doesn’t seem enough, but from myself, members of the board and all those at Willowbank, there is a deep appreciation for what Stomper has achieved here.”