Chatham, VA 1937-2010
Owner: Cooper's RC Race Center
Norris Lee Cooper was born in Prospect Hill, NC on January 25, 1937. After graduating from High School in Callands, VA Norris joined the US Marine Corps in 1957 where he received his basic training at Parris Island, SC. He was transferred to Camp Lejune, NC for advanced combat training before assignment to Sanglar Point, Philippines for 21 months. Norris finished out his three-year tour of duty at Quantico, VA and received a good conduct medal and expert marksmanship award.
In 1986 Norris and his wife Patricia founded Cooper’s Toys in an old store building in their community of Callands, VA. 1/10-scale race cars, trucks, and buggies were sold, assembled, and raced outside on a dirt oval race track built behind the old store. Norris decided to build a new indoor racing facility just down the road that they opened in November of 1987. This great new indoor facility consisted of a well-stocked hobby shop, bathrooms, snack bar and vending machines but was best known for the 245’ hard packed clay oval racetrack. Coopers RC Race Center quickly gained a reputation as one of the nicest Dirt Oval tracks in the country with over 140 pits with electrical outlets and a computerized lap counting system.
In its early years Coopers hosted several major dirt oval races including the ROAR and NORRCA Dirt Oval Nationals, several regional races and the US Open Wheel Championships. Many of the races at Coopers have been featured in a variety of the industry trade magazines in the past including RC Car Action, Competition Plus and RC News. In the mid 90's during a downturn in dirt oval racing Norris converted the facility to an off-road track as well as adding a large outdoor asphalt track large enough to race quarter scale cars on.
In 2002 Tony Stewart was looking for a new track to host the annual Custom Works US Open Wheel Championships so he called on Norris and Pat to see if they were interested in putting the dirt oval back in. Much to the happiness of a lot of racers they decided that yes they would and the 2002 US Open Wheel race hosted more than 240 racers from 28 states and was a great success. The next 5 US Open Wheel Champs were held at Coopers and were always a lot of fun with racers from all around the country participating with both Electric and Nitro powered cars.
Rob Cutman the current GM of Custom Works and a long time dirt oval racer has this to say about Norris and his memories from Coopers.
"I first met Norris and Pat in the fall of 1988 when myself and a friend attended their Fall Challenge race. Like everyone else going to Coopers for the first time we swore we had to be lost, no way there could have been any dirt oval worth going to out here in the middle of nowhere. Boy were we wrong, not only were we not lost but what we found was absolutely the nicest and coolest indoor dirt oval track we had ever seen. The track was huge, smooth, had a ton of banking and what could only be described as a "unique corner" at one end of it.
Norris promplty walked up to introduce himself and asked our names and where we were from and told us to make ourselves at home and if we needed anything just to let him know. I can't possibly remember how many times I went back to Coopers after that over the years but every single time I walked in from the second time on Norris always smiled, shook my hand and said "Hello Rob" when he greeted me. I was always amazed how well he remembered racers names and where they were from, it really was uncanny to me.
Norris truly was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met, not only in this industry but in my lifetime. He absolutely loved this hobby and even more the people in it. "
Sadly Norris passed way in 2010 but his legacy lives on as Cooper’s continues to operate on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month under the direction of Pat and her son Dale Cooper. Thank you Norris, Pat and Dale for the many years of fun, friendship and fierce competition that was a hallmark of the Coopers experience.