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“Big Willie” Robinson, Larger Than Life Drag Racing Supporter and Crusader Has Died

“Big Willie” Robinson, Larger Than Life Drag Racing Supporter and Crusader Has Died

We reported yesterday that “Big Willie” Robinson, the massive mountain of a man and huge force behind the street legal drag racing scene in the Los Angeles area was in poor health. Word has come to us that Robinson passed away at 5AM on Saturday. He was the founder of the International Brotherhood of Street Racers, worked tirelessly at and for Brotherhood Raceway on Terminal Island in LA, and believed with all of his being that drag racing could be a force to unite the community, quell racial tensions, and keep kids off the streets and away from drugs and gangs. His message was heard by many and followed by many more. There are worldwide chapters of the International Brotherhood of Street Racers now and all of this is because of Robinson’s unyielding devotion to his message, his cause, and his beliefs. The 6’6″ man was as imposing physical presence, but was a truly gentle giant who was devoted to his wife Tomiko and heart broken by her passing in 2007.

Robinson served in Vietnam with the US Army and formed the International Brotherhood of Street Racers after the infamous Watts riots of 1965 in order to try and direct the collective energy of hot rodders and drag racers to positive activities rather than the drugs, violence, and anger that pervaded the greater Los Angeles area during that tumultuous time. He worked for decades to get a drag strip that could be operated with the street racer/low buck guy in mind and saw his dream come to fruition in the form of Brotherhood Raceway on Terminal Island near Los Angeles. The track was short on amenities, niceties, and flash, but it was a true melting pot of the car culture and a place that lots of people drag raced at with minimal hassle and off of the city streets. It can be argued that the import drag racing scene which exploded in the 1990s was born there in the decades leading up to it’s mainstream popularity. Robinson was constantly working and fighting to keep the track open but ultimately the city stopped the operation of Brotherhood Racewaya number of years ago. Every now and again, rumors jump up that the track may reopen but they have not come to fruition at this point.

“Big Willie” Robinson did a lot over the decades that he served as the leader of the Brotherhood and we hope that his message and mission are carried on as he would have wanted.

Another sad day for our sport/hobby/passion.

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30 thoughts on ““Big Willie” Robinson, Larger Than Life Drag Racing Supporter and Crusader Has Died

  1. Birdman

    RIP, Willie. I knew yesterday that he would not be around much longer. Not sure why, just did.

    With the passing of his wife/best friend/soul mate Tomiko, it was just a matter of time. Her death took the wind out of his sails. Even with family around, what was left for him?

    God-speed old friend.

  2. Ray

    Big Willie,
    I for one am gonna miss your, “RACE WHAT YA BRUNG ATTITUDE!” as long as it passed tech inspection you could race. It was a real treat to listen to you announce over the loud speaker the races. You called me “Macho Man” cause I beat a Girl in a G.T.O. you didn’t even know what kind of car I was driving. My Ford Fairmont, Total Granny car but had some punch to it. I will miss you and the spirit of drag racing and the message you kept going. Even though I never met you personally Rest in peace my friend. You will be missed!

  3. Larry Turner

    As a young boy i was taught to hate others of color, as a racer i learned to make peace with those of color. We are of one god’s people. To Big Willie and all he stood for thank you, Sir For Everything. May God be With You.

    God Speed My Friend..

  4. Wolfman

    Sorry to hear about losing Big Willie as I have fond memories of him and the old school fun racing days on terminal island that he set up with then LA Mayor Tom Bradley RIP. Please let us know if they The Brotherhood are going to have a service for him. Thank You, Wolfman IOOB MC

  5. alaskadrags.com

    Your inspiration and ability to bring all colors together was truly amazing, To do this with street racers of such trouble times as the 60’s, is tribute to your mission and made you an American icon in the drag racing world. God Speed Willie.

    1. Ron

      God speed to you Willie! I just received an email some 3 days ago saying Willie needed prayers which were sent, But i agree after his wife passed, it really was the beginning of a hard road to now.

  6. Racers For Coffee

    …the only appropriate tribute we could offer is to continue an ego-free fellowship for the goal of keeping racing safer…keeping community talking….promoting a collective life of service…

  7. Jim Thoren

    Spoke with him on the phone a bit due to work, as we did some business with him. He gave away all the product we sent to him (to the local church) so even in his later years he was still trying to help the young. A true gentle giant. RIP Big Willie RIP…

  8. Dave Johnson

    Godspeed Big Willie
    It was a pleasure to have met you years ago and I enjoyed our phone conversations.
    I cant thank you enough for what you have done over the years for our.
    car culture and beyond.
    Dirty Dave VP brotherhood of street racers Masachusetts.

  9. superprojoe

    As a member of the Brotherhood of Street Racers and a good freind……i will miss him more than words can describe! May he race in peace…..miss ya’ bro’!

  10. superprojoe

    As a member of the Brotherhood of Street Racers and a good freind……i will miss him more than words can describe! May he race in peace…..miss ya’ bro’! Joe C aka Superprojoe./Brotherhood of Street Racers Illinois chapter

  11. Redd

    I can remember when he would hold the money @ the street races bcuz we knew he was fair…Tomiko would always be at his side (with the 44 in her purse) he kept the peace between all the many diff ppl that would come to share the sport we all lobe Street Racing…they both played a big part in my life..

  12. Anthony Castillo

    This news really hurts. I only met Willie three years ago at the PSCA race in Las Vegas when he was the Grand Marshal. What a wonderful person with a warm, kind heart. I would call him to check in and he called me out of the blue to invite me to the event he had at Picture Car up in Reseda. I got to help him out by giving him a ride from the V.A. to his friends house last Fall. I could see then that things were not going well for him. I feel grateful to have gotten to know him the little bit that I did. Here’s another of those “Squeezing Sand” moments Brian wrote about just a few days ago. Big Willie thank you for all you did. To say you will be missed just doesn’t do what so many of us are felling at this time. Race on my brother!!! R.I.P. your pain is all over now.

  13. Gloria Ramos

    Hello Everyone!
    I’m Big Willie’s Niece, Gloria. I just read so many of your beautiful comments about my Uncle and I want to say thank you! Truly, Uncle Willie loved street racing and all of the people he and my Aunt Tomiko grew to know and love for almost 3 decades. What’s amazing is that my Sister & I exist because of my Uncle! He introduced my Mom and Dad to each other at Lion’s Drag Strip a LONG time ago! Maybe that’s why he’s always had a very place in my heart!
    To you racers out there: Please keep my Uncle’s Legacy alive…Race with safety and always…”Run Whatcha Brung”!

    1. Laly

      Big Willie and Tomiko were an admiring couple. I was their neighbor and knew them my entire
      life. We were friends for 35 years. He and Tomiko would tell my parents that they wanted to adopt my sister and I. We did our share of wanting to hang out with them and loved coming over to watch the latest movies and have treats.

      I grew up, but the bond I had with them also grew. I made sure to stay in touch and have them be a part of my children’s life. Tomiko loved spending time with children, she was such a great person.

      When Tomiko passed, Big Willie was very lonely, my kids and I would spend lots of time with him. We enjoyed the pool and of course his company. He said that are company made his home a happy place.

      After he returned from his tour around the south and Midwest, he seemed a little happier, he saw all the love that everyone had for him. He would visit us often, always with a smile. My daughter would have dance battles with him. He was a great dancer. We loved hearing his stories, he had an amazin life story to tell everytime.

      His memories, will forever hold a special place in our hearts. He nick named us the buddy hood!

      We would like to attend his funeral. Please send me an e-mail and let me know how I can be added to the list. Essie15@me.com

    2. srt

      I met your uncle in 1971 at an event in Orange County. I was young, new to the southern california auto racing ‘scene’ and intimidated.
      Your Uncle & I talked for about an hour about cars and kids (me) and I came away with the impression of him being one of the most genuine, down to earth & CARING people that I have ever met.
      I still have that impression of him to this day. It was with a tear in my eye that I read of his passing and I wish him peace.

    3. Colin Kim

      Hello, I met Willie in 1964, my dad thanks him for holding the money at the ‘factories’ back when George Ramos (Gypsy George) would drive my dads 1963 red Corvette. In later years Willie would tell me that he paid his rent by betting on th Corvette. I was only 2 when I met him but you never forget seeing a man bigger than life, especially when the dog knocks down the door to chase him. My dad has great stories to tell about Willie when he first came to Ca. Thanks, Colin Kim.

  14. bkbridges

    I was admiring Big Willie’s Motorhome at the Spring Fling a few years ago and I ended up talking with Big Willie for about two hours. What a nice guy. I didnt know his history much until I went home and studied up. I felt honored, although I imagine he treated everyone that way. What a guy. RIP

  15. 75Duster

    R.I.P. Big Willie, say hello to my recently departed brother John Phillip Kennedy and Carrol Shelby, all gearheads now wrenching and racing together in the big track in the sky.

    John Philip Kennedy 7/5/65 – 5/11/12 R.I.P. brother.

  16. Becky Robinson

    A bigger than life man who brought so many racers together for one goal to race without race… To see beyond the color of ones skin to the similarities we all as racers shared. I am honored to have known him and raced beside him …and his attending my brother Ed Conrads (Corvette Eddie)funeral was a great testament to how racers stick together they were friends for over 40 years You will be missed Big Willie especially for your beliefs and your drive to bring them to fruition ..bringing all of us racers together in peace.. take the green light Big Willie and be at peace with your lovely wife .. ♥

    PS keep the race alive up there with my bro and so many other racers we have lost till we can all RUN WHAT WE BRUNG again

  17. Mike Thermos

    Big Willie,
    The role you played was instrumental in bringing all people, young, old, black, white, rich poor, to the drags. They learned how to get along, how to compete, learned skills, gave them a place to be. We all enjoyed the “Brotherhood”. Willie worked hard to give everyone a place to race. Willie and I worked on many projects. We actually started NOS there. Did a lot of testing and learning. Willie was a big man with a Big Heart. We’re all going to miss him. Till we meet again at the “Brotherhood” in the sky God speed, Friend
    Mike Thermos

  18. a.j.

    Wow sad news. I used to race at T.I. with a Grand Prix and an Accord. He gave a place where someone with slow junk like mine could still have fun and win some money bracket racing. The weekends I spent there are still a bright spot in my life. I hope Heavy and the rest of the group are ok.

  19. Vince

    I first met Big Willie and his wife Tomiko and some of the Brotherhood members back in 1969 at OCR (it was a nite funny car meet) while on vacation in SoCal. from New York. GoOne of the members took a photo of Big Willie and me,I still have the picture.Fast forward to 1981-82 again I met Big Willie and crew at the “Brotherhood Raceway” on terminal island,and I introduced myself to him and told him about that nite at OCR,boy what a feeling of joy that came over me again. Big Willie and Tominko will surely be missed,they were and still are “TWO GREAT PEOPLE”. We need more like them in this world to make it RIGHT again.”GODSPEED”

  20. WILD MAC

    I want to tell you THANK YOU BIG WILLIE for seeing what some people did not see when me and my buddy robert jackson brought our half scale dragster with 1000 cc motorcycle engines on them ,because we got a wohle lotta flack in the tech area,but you came over there and told them to let us run,and it ran a ten sec.thru the lights and you told me to bring back to the stageing area and set up a race with me and the turbo bug for 400 hot dogs and yes I beat the bug. You came over to the pit area and told me that yellow is WILD and to this day WILD MAC is on the side my dragster I KNOW YOU GOT THE TRACK UP THERE IN HEAVEN ALL READY WHEN WE MEET AGAIN AT THE STAGEING LIGHT PUSH THE SWITCH AND LET US RUN peace bro .

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