Drag racing down the quarter mile at Willowbank: How it all started

Drag racing in Ipswich started back in the 1980s, since then it has grown to hosting the biggest drag racing event outside of North America right on Brisbane's doorstep.
22 May 2020
Dave Reid, Motorsport photographer

In 1982 the drag racing scene in Queensland was in jeopardy, the area surrounding the Surfers Paradise Raceway at Carrara was becoming more built up with houses and shops. Local racers decided in order for the sport to continue to grow, a suitable home with plenty of land would need to be secured.

Keith White, who was part of the committee formed to find this new land, became aware that the Commonwealth Government had given some land to Moreton Shire (what is now Ipswich) to be developed for sporting use. The newly formed committee travelled to the open farm land to find a perfectly suited open plain area that could be developed into the 1320ft drag strip that would become known as Willowbank Raceway.

Construction of Willowbank Raceway

A team of fans, racers and their friends and family spent the next three years building the track and the facilities. They used every weekend, public holiday and day off clearing the paddocks, constructing buildings and fences and prepared the facility to open as a venue for drag racing.

However, the group of volunteers had one more hurdle to jump, and that was to raise enough money to complete the most important part of the venue, the bitumen track to race on.

After trying all the banks with no luck, the founding groups decided to speak to Bill Gunn who was the state member for the area. Mr Gunn vouched for the group and convinced the ANZ bank to loan the final $250,000 to finish the venue. However, there was one condition on the loan, the seven directors of the track would need to sign their houses over to the bank as collateral.

Many hands make light work as volunteers and family hold working bees

The raceway officially opened in 1985, Surfers Paradise Raceway continued until 1987 when it closed the gates for the last time and moved all the major events to Willowbank Raceway including the Tin Top Titles, the New Year’s Drag Racing series and what is now known as the biggest drag racing event outside of North America, the Winternationals.  

Racers and fans from the USA traveled to Ipswich to visit the now iconic track back when it started and this continues today with plenty of big names hitting the strip.

Willowbank Raceway puts on over 80 days of action down the strip each year with events ranging from the weekly Test N Tunes, private track hires, annual Track Championships, the Street Series, themed events and much more, with something for everyone to be a part of.

Gary Phillips in the 1980s, he still races today.

In the last few years with the likes of Street Outlaws on TV, there has been a rise in grudge style action, and events such as the Kenda 660 Drag Radial Series now call Willowbank home. The radial series alone puts up over $40,000 in prize money for the entrants, who can race in a number of classes. The series has some big names including Ben Bray who was the first person to run over 200mph on a radial tire in Australia, a feat that has been a target for racers for years.

Willowbank Raceway doesn’t just pride itself on the mainstream events but also some grass roots style racing by putting on Test ‘n’ Tunes each week. Anyone can take their own car or bike, no matter how quick or slow they are down the track. You can race your friends down the famous drag strip or just take your car out to see how fast it will go in a safe and controlled environment.

Gary Phillips in 2018

With the current situation most sporting facilities are sitting in a holding pattern waiting for the green light to go and Willowbank Raceway is no different ready to cut a .000 reaction time and get back to the great sport known as Drag Racing.

To keep up to date with all notices from Willowbank Raceway be sure to like their Facebook page so you can be notified of the new racing calendar as soon as it drops.

Dave Reid Motorsport photographer
Dave Reid is a Queensland-based motorsport photographer who has spent a good part of the last three decades covering spectacular thrills and spills - and fiery sunsets - at Willowbank Raceway.

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