Tributes flow for Winton boss Mick Ronke
The death of Winton patriarch Mick Ronke has left a gaping hole among racetrack operators in Australia.
At 66, Ronke died after suffering heart problems with his family spending time by his side in recent days.
As the chief executive of Winton Motor Raceway in country Victoria, Ronke was a passionate servant of the complex which his family is inextricably linked to.
The track was built almost 52 years ago when several key motor racing venues were springing up around the country. Among the band of workers from the local car club was Ronke’s dad.
After growing up with the Winton track often a topic of conversation around the family dining table, it so followed that when he turned 18 Ronke gained employment at the venue and would never work anywhere else for the rest of his life.
Over the years as the promoter of the country track and as the chief executive, Ronke would resiliently ride through turbulent times but his sole focus remained with the best interests of the circuit and motor racing.
Ronke’s death breaks a link to one of the eras of Australian motor racing where tracks flourished in the non-professional period before encountering a period of troubled waters over the last couple of decades.
He was one of the few circuit administrators who was still in power through the various phases of transition and evolution in Australian motor racing including the birth of the current V8 Supercars brand from what was the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1997. But Ronke goes back way before the aforementioned period through the decades it was merely an honest club racing venue serving motor racing with decent if not humble digs.
His contemporaries reflect on a person who had an unwavering resolve and passion for the art of running a racing venue and trying to stay relevant and ahead of the game in rapidly changing and challenging times.
Ivan Stibbard, who ran Sydney’s Amaroo Park and presided over the Bathurst 1000 for 25 years until the late 1990’s, could not recall ever having a cross word with Ronke.
“I’ve known Mick for many, many years and we never had an argument. I would go to Winton and likewise he would attend Bathurst,” Stibbard said.
“He will be sadly missed and he did a remarkable amount of work for Winton considering it was once really only a club circuit not unlike what we had at Amaroo. He did wonders for the place.
“I’ve been retired from racing administration now for 15 years and Mick was one of the last remaining stalwarts of the old brigade of people who have come through the ranks and have seen the ups and downs of circuit safety, layouts, category changes. Now that link has gone.
“I hope a lot of the younger people realise the legacy he has left.”
Ronke was the reason why Winton had managed to survive through some rocky times including 1997 when he oversaw the track extension from 2.03km to 3km which proved crucial to the circuit’s survival.
Not only did he turn around the floundering fortunes of Winton but he did the same to Wakefield Park, just outside Goulburn.
“He did an awesome job and you always knew where you stood with him and he was very fair but he didn’t take any crap from anyone which was good,” Bowe said.
“Mick was a good motor racing dude and the sport will be very much the poorer for his passing. He oversaw the development of Winton as a track and the extensions and major national Championship rounds. It was always done with a kind of country laconicness.”
Dick Johnson, who competed through the decades at Winton before his retirement in 1999, said: “He’s been a big part of racing at Winton for many, many years and he was both big in stature and big in heart.
“He turned Winton around to be financially viable and for a country racetrack that’s a big deal. It’s a big loss to motor racing in general.”
Ronke served as president of the Australian Auto Sport Alliance, a body which was formed almost 10 years ago which sanctions some of the country’s key circuits including Winton, Wakefield Park, Queensland Raceway, Lakeside, Calder Park with Phillip Island, Sydney Motorsport Park, Mallala, Barbagallo and Symmons Plains holding AASA activities.
At various times he had not seen eye-to-eye with V8 Supercars nor CAMS over the years however both bodies were moved to acknowledge he had been a tower of strength for the motor racing community in country Victoria.
“His sheer dedication not just to the annual V8 Supercars event but to maintaining the Winton venue for all forms of motorsport was amazing. He was a very passionate and motivated man,” V8SC chief operating officer Shane Howard said.
“He was a larger-than-life person, very matter-of-fact and a genuine bloke who spent a lifetime dedicated to Winton and motorsport.”
CAMS issued a statement which, in part, read: “Very much a Ronke family affair, Mick together with his mother and father were integral to the establishment of Winton Raceway as the “best little country race track in Australia” in the early 1960s.
“Always a man with his own opinion and vision for the future, Mick delivered to many motor sport participants a venue which was affordable, memorable, safe and enjoyable.”
Brad Jones, former driver and owner of the eponymous V8 team based at nearby Albury said: “It’s a really, really sad day for the Australian Motorsport community and especially those of us who have had something to do with Mick. He was a promoter at Winton when my dad was still the promoter at the Hume Weir. I’ve known him my whole life.
“I can remember my brother (Kim) and I getting our photo taken at Winton under the tree next to the scrutineering bay when Norm was racing a Chevy Nova and Mick was around in those days.
“He’s irreplaceable. Especially to the family and all the people that Mick has touched over the years it is a very, very sad time.”
Son Matthew Ronke posted a tribute on Facebook saying: “Today I lost my best friend in the world, my hero and my father all at the same time. RIP Michael James Ronke you were so special to me words can’t even describe it.”
Ronke was a valued friend and supporter of Speedcafe.com and we extend our sympathies and condolences to his family.