28 May 2014

The Willowbank community is mourning the passing of former councillor Jeff Cooper who was one of the raceway’s most fervent early supporters.

Former Willowbank Raceway president John Winterburn said Mr Cooper, who passed away on Friday at the age of 61 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, was quick to recognise the potential of the Willowbank Raceway project when he became involved with it in the early 1980s.

“The land on which Willowbank is built was then part of the Moreton Shire Council. It had been provided to the council by the federal government in 1975 for sporting and recreational purposes and in mid-1981 local ward councillor Jeff Cooper took Keith White, myself and Dennis Syrmis to see if the land was suitable for a drag racing strip. That was when we saw Willowbank for the first time.’’

Mr Winterburn said that from the beginning, councillors from the Moreton Shire such as Cr John Harris, Cr Cooper and chairman Neil Russell went out of their way to assist Willowbank.

‘‘Jeff Cooper saw the potential in the project immediately and provided assistance in many ways, including helping to push through the council the renaming of the area from the somewhat uninspiring Drome View to Willowbank and working to persuade reluctant councillors to agree to our choice of Champions Way for the entry road. He also advised on ways to frame the proposal for a lease to the council.’’

Mr Cooper loaned Willowbank a diesel-powered road roller for use in the construction of the track.

‘‘He provided that roller free of charge because he believed in the project and that was something he could do to help. It was greatly appreciated,’’ Mr Winterburn said.

“Right up until the night before the opening race meeting in 1985, Jeff was out there helping us prepare for the big event.

“He owned the caravan park just down the highway from Willowbank and it has housed many racers, teams and officials over the years.

“Without people like Jeff Cooper, the construction of Willowbank would have taken much longer. He is certainly a person we acknowledge as having made a significant contribution to the establishment of this race track.’’

Willowbank Raceway President Tony Wedlock said the track’s relationship with Jeff Cooper laid the groundwork for a strong enduring relationship between the facility and the Ipswich City Council.

“As a not for profit organisation it is critically important that we enjoy a great relationship with the council, and in our early days the bedrock of the great relationship we enjoy today was laid thanks to people like Jeff,” Mr Wedlock said.

“His drive and his passion in supporting our team of enthusiastic volunteers looking to create a leading drag racing facility for Queensland, along with the council’s support, enabled us to create the Willowbank Raceway the fans know today.”

A funeral for Mr Cooper will be held on Thursday 29 May 2014 at Woodlands of Marburg. The Willowbank Raceway team would like to extend its deepest sympathies to the Cooper family at this time.