Western Speedway legend Dave Cooper holds one of the many trophies from his racing days. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Western Speedway racing legend ‘The Flying Plumber’ turns 98

Dave Cooper recalls car crashes, his first win, and more

It all began with an old pickup truck.

At 16, Saanich-born Dave Cooper won the first car race he entered with his father’s pickup truck.

“A lot of my buddies said that I grew horns when I got behind a wheel,” says Cooper, on the eve of his 98th birthday, Oct. 16.

“From that moment on, I never looked back. It was a natural progression. All my worries would go away the moment the race flag dropped.”

READ MORE: Western Speedway Hall of Fame races to 30

Cooper is a legend in the Western Speedway community. As a local Victorian, he started driving “street stocks” such as a 1936 Chrysler and later turned to the simpler Sprint cars. He was the track champion at Western five years in a row. He’s been inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame and Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Cooper and a group of drivers and builders started the new Western Speedway back in 1953. A plumber by day, Cooper did all the plumbing work for the Speedway.

He was known as the ‘Flying Plumber’. In the first season, he won both the sprint car and ‘big car’ points race. His overall win total was more than 200 races at the new track.

The 98-year-old never thought he’d end up in racing. At the age of 5, he got polio, which affected his mobility while growing up. In high school, his stiff right ankle from polio pulled him back from most sports.

“It was so bad that when I would play baseball, I would hit the ball and have someone else run for me,” he recalls.

ALSO READ: Langford has no plans to make changes to Western Speedway after noise complaints

For more than 40 years, racing was his beloved hobby. He never owned the cars, he just drove them. By the time he reached his 50s, he was competing in the super stock division and working on his cars at any spare moment. Sometimes he would race for NASCAR in California.

“He would go out and work on his car all night and the next morning run off to a race,” says Barb, his wife. “I was worried about him falling asleep at the wheel.”

Cooper says in all his years of racing, the only time he feared for his life was during a competition in Roseburg, Ore. During a race, a car spun out and on the next lap in, with Cooper in the lead, the driver backed up right into Cooper’s car.

“My car flew into the air with the nose straight up and I somehow came out of that alive,” he says. “My car was wrecked and the car radiator burst and burnt my legs.”

He was rushed to a hospital and taken care of, but he says he still has some scars. On the way back to Victoria, his friend fell asleep at the wheel and nearly drove them into a gas station. “That was the biggest scare of my life,” says Cooper.

READ MORE: Annual Western Speedway tradition brings the goods on Sunday mornings

When asked the secret to winning races, Cooper says you have to study the competition and make tight turns. “The car and you have to be one. That’s all it takes.”

In 1974, he retired. His race days may be behind him, but his time on the road isn’t.

Cooper still has a driver’s licence and regularly goes on errands around town. He and his wife, Barb, have three children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

‘The Flying Plumber’ and his friends celebrate his 98th birthday at the Six Mile Pub on Saturday night, Oct. 19.

aaron.guillen@goldstreamgazette.com

 

Western Speedway legend Dave Cooper holds a couple of the many trophies from his racing days. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Just Posted

Lithium-ion battery fire damages suite in Nanaimo

One man displaced from home after battery for radio-controlled toy bursts into flame while charging

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to hear blind community’s case against Victoria bus stops

The Canadian Federation of the Blind says bike lanes can be dangerous

Point-guard lobs no-look, three-pointer for Oak Bay High video

Trick-shot only took three times, says Oak Bay teen

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Kitchen fire sends one to hospital in Port Alberni

Apartment block evacuated after sprinkler system was set off

Black bear sighting reported on UVic campus

University urging residents in the area to be careful

MISSING: High-risk woman last seen on May 25

Police are asking for the public’s help in locating Jennifer Daughinee-Mendelson

Campbell River RCMP issue statement in support of a peaceful rally and against racism

June 6 Campbell River rally one of many happening on the Island

Sooke temporary homeless shelter packs up early

Occupants to leave facility by June 22

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Most Read