Dave Cooper ran his first race in 1941 but it wasn’t until 1946 that he really got revved up.
Cooper is a legend in the speedway community. At 16, he won the first car race he entered with his father’s pickup truck. 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 Speedway five years in a row and as a plumber by trade, was quickly known as the “Flying Plumber.”
“A lot of my buddies said that I grew horns when I got behind a wheel,” said Cooper on the eve of his 98th birthday on Oct. 16, 2019, when reminiscing with the Goldstream Gazette.
“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.”
In his first season, he won both the sprint car and big car points race. His overall win total was more than 200 races.
Saanich-born Cooper never thought he’d end up in racing. At the age of five, he got polio, which affected his mobility while growing up. In high school, his right ankle stiff 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 recalled.
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.
“Automobiles were the big thing back then and auto racing seemed the natural thing to do,” he said back in March 1998 when speaking with the Gazette.
Cooper was a natural at it – tearing up the track at the old Langford Speedway where he started, Shearing, Western Speedway and many other tracks along the U.S coast.
He competed four times in the Shell 4000 Rally from Montreal to Vancouver. With Bob Low as his co-pilot, their best finish was second against more than 75 competitors.
Cooper recalled safety regulations weren’t such an important factor back then. When he drove his 1936 Dodge plumping pickup in a race, he got his friend Roy Hingley to sit in the back of his truck for added weight on the back wheels. The Flying Plumber went on to win that race.
Before modern rules, safety regulations and insurance began to regulate the sport, it was normal for the race cars to be towed with just a rope tied behind the truck and to help the racers, the provincial police would hold up traffic to let them get through to their destination.
When speaking with the Goldstream Gazette back in March 1998, Cooper said there was a time when he would have liked to have gone further in his racing career, but financially it was not feasible, and he always maintained his family came first.
Yet it wasn’t the financial concerns that led to his retirement in 1974.
“I was leading a race in Monroe (Washington) and I had led the race for over 100 laps when the engine blew and I went off the end of the track because I couldn’t see,” Cooper shared with the Gazette for the 45th-anniversary edition of the Western Speedway Guide, published in 1998.
”Ted McKenzie was the first to reach my car and he lifted me out. It was then I decided it wasn’t fun anymore and I always said I would quit when racing wasn’t fun anymore.”
Cooper was inducted into the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1984 and celebrated his 100th birthday in October 2021.
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