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'Big Willie' Robinson, LA drag race organizer passes away at 69

Hot-Rod racers at night
Hot-Rod racers at night
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

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“Big Willie” Robinson, the larger than life figure who founded the National Brotherhood of Street Racers passed away on Saturday at a Los Angeles care center. Standing at a massive 6-foot-6 and weighing nearly 300-pounds, it was his imposing figure and detailed knowledge of street car engines that built the foundation for a brotherhood of drag racers in Los Angeles.

The first races were held in the mid-60s on Crenshaw Boulevard and in commercial alleyways in South Los Angeles. “Big Willie,” a Vietnam War special forces veteran was not only able to organize drag racing activities with the approval and assistance of city officials like the Mayor and the police department but he got the full participation of warring street gang members who otherwise would have been fighting and even killing each other. The Brotherhood’s street racing activities helped cool down racial tensions after the 1965 Watts riots and by 1974 ‘Big Willie’ was able to organize street racing on an old Navy airfield on Terminal Island. He paid $1,000 a month in rent and charged $5 admission.

"Big Willies" goal was to use the Brotherhood as a means to get the youth off the streets and into a safe place were there was no color, only car engines. He is survived by his mother, Lula Mae Simmons, his sister Jean Davis and his brother, Don Ray Robinson.

Do you remember "Big Willie" and the L.A. racing scene of the 60's and 70's? Do you have any stories of watching the racers on Terminal Island?


Dick Messer, former director of the Peterson Automotive Museum