John Cooper, first to hold track posts as president at Indianapolis & later Daytona, has died

Photo for Headline Surfer / John Cooper is shown in this vintage image from 1985 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
 
By Henry Frederick
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- John Cooper, the first man to serve as president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and later Daytona International Speedway who died Wednesday in Indianapolis at the age of 83, was remembered by motorsports leaders of today.

Cooper served as IMS president from 1979-1982. He then became Daytona’s president from December 1987 to July 1990. The only other person to hold both positions was Joie Chitwood III.

Cooper was described by current Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles as “one of (the Indy track's) iconic leaders.”
Cooper’s ties to NASCAR were borne out of a longstanding friendship with Bill France Sr., who built Daytona International Speedway in 1957. While still IMS president, Cooper began talks to get NASCAR to race in Indianapolis, a move that became reality in 1994 when Tony George was IMS president.

Brian France, the elder France's grandson and current NASCAR CEO, released a statement in remembrance of Coooper, saying in part, "I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the friends and family of John Cooper. John served in many motorsports roles throughout his life, including president of two of the most iconic race tracks in the world – Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But beyond any of his exemplary career stops, there was one role that was personally even more important – dear friend." France continued, "John was a cherished confidant of both my father and my grandfather. My family has relied on his counsel – both personally and professionally speaking – countless times. We are all saddened by his passing, and will miss John dearly."

1bfrance copy.jpgBrian France, the elder France's grandson and current NASCAR CEO, released a statement in remembrance of Coooper, saying in part, "I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the friends and family of John Cooper. John served in many motorsports roles throughout his life, including president of two of the most iconic race tracks in the world – Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But beyond any of his exemplary career stops, there was one role that was personally even more important – dear friend." 

France continued, "John was a cherished confidant of both my father and my grandfather. My family has relied on his counsel – both personally and professionally speaking – countless times. We are all saddened by his passing, and will miss John dearly."

France's sister, Lesa France Kennedy, who heads up International Speedway Corp., owner of Daytona International Speedway and a dozen other tracks on the NASCAR circuit, added via prepared statement, "The impact that John Cooper had on the International Speedway Corporation, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR and the motorsports industry overall cannot be overstated. In addition to being a legendary voice of executive leadership, he also was a longtime friend and confidant to the France Family, starting with his close relationship to my grandfather, Bill France Sr."

France Kennedy added, “John was one of only two people who have served as president at both Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and that represents only a portion of his career and achievements. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family and friends. We have lost a cherished link to our industry’s past.”

Cooper, an Iowa native who attended Northwestern University, started showing up at motorsports events in 1953, not only as a fan, but also as a working hand, with sprint car and champ car teams.

Donald Davidson, historian at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said vintage photos of Cooper working the Indianapolis 500, date back to 1954. 

Cooper helped the US Auto Club hold its first race Jan. 8, 1956, in Fort Wayne, Davidson said.

In 1972, Cooper was named president of Ontario (Calif.) Speedway, and two years later he played a pivotal role in helping motor sports through the country’s energy crisis.

In October 1979, Cooper became IMS president just after CART was formed. He helped merge CART and USAC into the short-lived Championship Racing League (CRL), which lasted four races, and he left IMS just before the 1982 Indy 500 to serve as chairman of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States.

FAST FACTS: First winners at Indy & Daytona 500s

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• The 1911 International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday, May 30, 1911. It was the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500, which is one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. That first race was won by Ray Harroun.

• Lee Petty, patriarch of the Petty racing family, won the inaugural Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 22, 1959, defeating Johnny Beauchamp, in a photo finish.

DID YOU KNOW?

YouTube downloads / Some of the closest finishes in the Indy & Daytona 500s were run during the late John Cooper's tenures as track president at each of the venues. Cooper, who died Wednesday at age 83, was president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1079 to 1982 and at Daytona International Speedway from December of 1987 to June of 1990. Shown below is one of the closest finishes in the Indy 500 with Gordon Johncock holding off Rick Mears for the win in the 1982 Indianapolis 500. Here is a link to the 1988 Daytona 500 won by Bobby Allison over his son, Davey Allison: 
 
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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.