Queensland motorsport, and the community of Leyburn, lost a widely admired stalwart with the death of Mike Collins on Thursday 2 June at the age of 74.
Mike, who passed away peacefully in a Toowoomba hospital, was the driving force behind the foundation in 1996 of the Historic Leyburn Sprints, one of Australia’s most successful grassroots motorsport events.
In business, he and his late first wife Ann operated Collins Hay, a major contractor supplying hay throughout rural Queensland and a prominent member of the Australian fodder industry.
Mike had a lifelong passion for motorsport, competing in races and rallies from a young age and driving a variety of his own cars at the annual Historic Leyburn Sprints.
In recent years he raced in the Australian Trans-Am Championship in a 1965 Ford Mustang that he had purchased in the United States to contest the 2012 Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado.
Mike was preparing to return to spectate at Pikes Peak later this month when his health declined, but he had visited a Trans-Am event at Queensland Raceway the weekend prior to his passing.
The Historic Leyburn Sprints was launched after Mike and other community members saw an opportunity to commemorate the running of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix on an ex-wartime airfield near the former gold-mining town, an event that reportedly attracted 30,000 spectators.
“Realising the significance of 1999 as the 50th anniversary of the Australian Grand Prix in Leyburn, I thought we could lay the platform for a huge celebration,” he said at the time.
“In conjunction with the Historic Racing Car Club we surveyed the original site of the Grand Prix, but it was deemed too far gone to renovate and so the concept of establishing the sprints in the town was born.”
Thousands of drivers in cars dating from the 1920s to modern-day have contested the Sprints over the years, with up to 15,000 spectators lining the round-the-houses course.
Community organisations earn money by helping to run the event, while the organising committee has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of event earnings to nominated local beneficiaries.
The Sprints was awarded Queensland Motor Sport Event of the Year in 2017.
Mike was a tireless volunteer throughout his 25 years as a Sprints official, serving as a popular Race Director and on the organising committee and driving trucks and tractors to help build the temporary street course.
He was known widely through the Queensland motorsport community and beyond.
It was a family affair, working alongside his wife Ann as President until she passed away in 2018.
He then worked with their daughter Tricia, who took over Ann’s position.
Mike was re-married in May last year to Lyn Zirbel.
“My father has left a wonderful legacy,” Tricia Collins said.
“He was a gentleman and a gentle man, loved and respected throughout the motorsport community as an enthusiastic racer, but above all as a hard-working big bloke who helped put our little town of Leyburn back on the map and brought its community huge social and economic benefits.”
Mike Collins is survived by adult children Paul, Mark, Wayne, Chris and Tricia, their respective partners Kerryn, Christine, Amanda, Joanna and Jamie, and grandchildren Taylah, Mitchell, Breanna, Liam, Summer, Georgia, and Olivia.
The funeral will be held at St Matthew’s Catholic Church, 5818 Toowoomba-Karara Road, Leyburn on Friday 10 June, at 10 am. The service will be video-streamed at www.burstows.com.au/tributecentre.
The 26th Historic Leyburn Sprints will be staged on 20-21 August.