Australian drag racing loses stalwart days after Hall of Fame induction
By Brett Murray
Wednesday 9th September, 2020 - 5:29pm
The Australian drag racing community is in shock after the death of Queensland stalwart John ‘Stomper’ Winterburn, just days after it was announced he would be inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
It is believed that Winterburn was on the way home from a dinner with friends last night when he was involved in a minor traffic accident after suffering a medical episode.
Winterburn’s contribution to Queensland and Australian drag racing involved an incredible 54 years of continuous service since he volunteered as a 17-year-old official at the Surfers Paradise International Raceway in 1966.
Tragically, the news comes just days after Winterburn was contacted by Don Garlits, CEO of the DON Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in the US, and advised he would be inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2021.
Willowbank Raceway President, Tony Wedlock, said that the drag racing fraternity was in shock at Winterburn’s passing.
“It has come as a complete shock and has been very difficult for everyone to deal with,” Wedlock told Speedcafe.com.
“The word legend is overused a lot in sports, but I truly believe drag racing has maybe half a dozen true legends in this country and ‘Stomper’ was one of them.
“His contribution to the sport over more than five decades will never be matched.
“The only good thing about this timing is that at least he got to accept his nomination for the Hall of Fame and see the genuine emotion from the industry about the award.”
Winterburn, a life-long bachelor, was also well known in the hot rodding and car club communities and ran annual tours to motorsport events all over the US.
Winterburn 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.
On April 10, 2016, at the former site of Surfers Raceway, Willowbank Raceway made a presentation to Winterburn to acknowledge his 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.
Wedlock praised Winterburn after the recent Hall of Fame induction was announced.
“John was there from the very start of drag racing at Surfers and 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,” said Wedlock.
“So, Stomper was also there from the very start of Willowbank.
“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 race track. 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 added.
“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.”
The International Drag Racing Hall of Fame induction is scheduled for March 2021 in Gainesville, Florida.
The only other Australian in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame is Sydney Top Fuel racer and former CEO of Sydney Dragway, Jim Read, inducted in 2010.
Speedcafe.com extends its condolences to Winterburn’s family and friends. Funeral details will be posted when available.