UPDATED: FUNERAL DETAILS
One of the most instrumental people in Australian drag racing, Dennis Syrmis sadly passed away this morning after a long illness.
Syrmis was a long-time promoter of Willowbank Raceway, former national director of ANDRA and champion racer with his series of fast Time Machine race-cars, including a supercharged Toyota Corolla gasser. He was also one of the first five inductees into the ANDRA Hall of Fame recently.
In the early 1970s, Syrmis took over as head of ANDRA after the sudden passing of then national director John Storm.
After leading ANDRA for a decade, he resigned in 1983 to take charge of the Willowbank project, leading its dedicated team of volunteers as it built one of the world's finest and most successful drag racing facilities.
In 2001, Syrmis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and he retired from the role the following year due to his worsening condition.
For the majority of the past five years, Syrmis had been restricted to bed and was moved to the Brookfield Village nursing home in 2009.
Syrmis' condition deteriorated badly this past week with his wife, Willowbank Raceway board member Sue telling Just Drag Racing his passing would finally give him the relief he deserved.
"Dennis battled very hard over the past six days and it was terrible to watch him suffer more and more, so his passing is a relief – thankfully he doesn't have to suffer any more," Sue Syrmis said.
"We have all lost a great man, a one of a kind person."
To celebrate the venue's 25th anniversary in 2010, Willowbank's famous quarter-mile was dedicated to Syrmis by being renamed "Dennis Syrmis Way".
Lifelong friend and long-time Willowbank President, John Winterburn said of his friend at the time;
"Dennis lived and breathed drag racing, and in recognition of his legacy the [Willowbank Raceway] board made the decision to honour him by naming the quarter mile of Willowbank Raceway 'Dennis Syrmis Way'," he said.
"The reason for this is because it was HIS WAY that got us here to where we are today and it was HIS WAY that has shown us the future – and this is how we would like to say thanks for showing us the way."
Former ANDRA Chairman of Honour, Ian Smith said Syrmis' contribution to the sport must never be overlooked.
"Dennis was a prickly character who at times had an attitude of 'my way or the highway' however his contribution must never be overlooked – until his illness took him away he was always a great contributor to our sport," Smith said.
"There are many innovations in the modern era that can be directly traced to the work that Dennis did in the early days – Dial-Your-Own, Top Doorslammer, Supercharged Outlaws...
"His most fitting legacy is Willowbank Raceway and for that fact alone he deserved to be one of the inaugural inductees into the ANDRA Hall of Fame."
Just Drag Racing offers its sincerest condolences to Dennis' wife, Sue, his family, and many, many friends at this sad time. We have all lost a great man.
Tributes are flowing for legendary Australian drag racing promoter, administrator and racer, Dennis Syrmis who passed away today, 1 December 2013, after a long illness.
Jim and Denise Read
A great man has been lost, but he will never be forgotten for his wisdom and contribution to drag racing and his personal friendship and advice to us for many decades.
Sue you are in our thoughts and we are sure that the strength and support you have shown for many years we carry you through this sad time.
Willowbank Raceway Statement
Willowbank Raceway's founding manager Dennis Syrmis has passed away, aged 71, following a long illness.
Dennis will be remembered for the positive impact he had on the sport of championship drag racing, as a racer, administrator and track manager.
He was a tenacious champion of drag racing, both as a racer and administrator but his most satisfying achievements were as track manager of Willowbank.
Dennis was national director of the Australian National Drag Racing Association from 1974 until 1983 when he resigned to take up the position of manager of Willowbank Raceway. He stepped down as Willowbank manager in 2002 due to ill health.
While Dennis always acknowledged the efforts of many people who all helped get Willowbank started, he worked tirelessly in the service of Willowbank and was the driving force that made it all happen.
Tony Wedlock, President - Willowbank Raceway
Over this past weekend, Drag Racing lost one of its true pioneers and innovators when Dennis Syrmis passed away.
During my time in the sport, like most racers, I had a run in or two with Dennis, because it really was his way or the highway.
Coming from a racing background, Dennis had a unique understanding of the sport and was a true visionary, responsible for a number of significant changes within Drag Racing. Dennis was instrumental in the formation of brackets, such as the Wild Bunch and Supercharged Outlaws, as well as being the driving force behind the creation of the current DYO format during his time as the ANDRA CEO. However, in my opinion his greatest achievement, and legacy, was the huge role he played in the creation and growth of Willowbank Raceway.
Dennis was a focused individual who didn't tolerate fools easily because they generally got in his way and slowed him down. Once he had goal, nothing would stop him from achieving his aim, and he simply didn't care what anyone thought about him, as he was focused on making Drag Racing a better sport.
My time on the Willowbank Raceway board allowed me to get to know the true Dennis, and I was lucky enough to see what a great bloke he was.
Behind every great man is an equally great woman, and Dennis had that support in his wife, and long term partner Sue, who stood beside her man until the end.
I am pleased to see a large part of Willowbank Raceway will always be the Dennis Syrmis Way - the fastest drag strip in Australia.
Rest in Peace Dennis
Tony Thornton, former ANDRA Chief Executive Officer
It's a very sad day for Australian Drag Racing yet one of blessed release for Dennis Syrmis and his many friends.
Dennis was a key factor in the creation of ANDRA, and the development of his chosen sport into one that was accessible to people at all levels.
He had a firm focus on what was needed and the drive to make it happen. As well, he was one of the drivers of the Willowbank Raceway project.
On all counts, he delivered.
His compliments and advice were most valuable to me and although we weren't able to get close for a while, his presence was an inspiration.
God speed Dennis and a big 'Thank You' to Sue.
Ian Smith, former ANDRA Chairman of Honour
Dennis was a prickly character who at times had an attitude of 'my way or the highway' however his contribution must never be overlooked – until his illness took him away he was always a great contributor to our sport.
There are many innovations in the modern era that can be directly traced to the work that Dennis did in the early days – Dial-Your-Own, Top Doorslammer, Supercharged Outlaws...
His most fitting legacy is Willowbank Raceway and for that fact alone he deserved to be one of the inaugural inductees into the ANDRA Hall of Fame.
Vic Wood, former ANDRA Marketing Services Manager
I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dennis - he was a great drag racer and an even greater administrator but it was his personal friendship that I valued most of all - my sincere condolences to Sue and his many close friends - RIP Dennis
Bill Pratt, the Drag Racing List
A huge figure internationally. I was proud to have met him. Farewell, Dennis and deep condolences to Sue and his many friends.
Dennis Syrmis's Achievements and Awards
1973 – Australian Hot Rod Federation's South Queensland Division delegate
1973 – assisted in break away from the AHRF to form the Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA).
1974 – Appointed ANDRA National Director
1975 – Conceived the Australian Drag Racing Series to create first national championship
1975 – Instituted ANDRA's Injured Drivers Fund
1981 – Introduced Dial-Your-Own brackets
1983 – Resigned from ANDRA, appointed Willowbank Raceway manager
1985 – Willowbank Raceway opens, Syrmis only fulltime employee until 1993
1993 – ANDRA Award of Merit
2000 – Awarded Australian Sports Medal by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
2001 – Recognition for 15 years of Volunteer Service and Dedication to Willowbank Raceway
2002 – ANDRA Lifetime Achievement Award
2002 – Recognition from Ipswich City Council
2002 – Paul Harris Fellowship
2005 – Nostalgia Drag Racing Hall of Fame
2005 – Appointed Willowbank Raceway Honorary Lifetime Director
2010 – Awarded Willowbank 25-Year Service Award
2010 – Willowbank Raceway dedicates its famous quarter-mile to Syrmis, naming it "Dennis Syrmis Way"
2012 – Australian Nostalgia Fuel Association Pioneer Award
2013 – ANDRA Hall of Fame inaugural inductee