The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

Memories of Broadway Bob

It's hard to believe this summer will be the seventh anniversary of the passing of my old boss Broadway Bob Metzler. I remember seeing an interview with Green Bay Packer legend Herb Adderly once, in regards to Vince Lombardi and the lasting effect he had on his life. Herb said, "I think of him every single day. I love my father, who is also gone, but I don't think of him every day, but Mr. Lombardi, yes, I certainly do."


Broadway touched so many lives, in oh so many ways. I think what I miss the most, aside from him giving this kid with a trunk load of chutzpah a chance, was the times we'd blow hours on the phone. I'd call up with some insane idea, and Bob would carefully and politely de-construct it. ("No, Jon. Joe Amato isn't running such and such match race for free. The promoter is paying him X over a period of blah-blah, in return for X-many return visits. He's not a big draw in the Midwest, so I'd lose money booking him in.") But he'd always hear me out, God love him...


I'd been walking through the gates at Union Grove for seventeen years before I started working for Broadway, so we had some fun times before he knew who I was. Here are my favorite two. It's the summer of 1986, I am freshly divorced, and completely broke. I head on up for the NHRA Winston point race for Division 3 on a Saturday, only to find my empty pockets will only cover one day’s admission. So, I spend Saturday evening watching through the fence and bumming beers from people I'm meeting at various campfires. Sunday morning dawns with Broadway shaking my arm (as, for reasons unknown, I'm asleep on the hood of my '73 Toyota rust bucket of a car). "Son, SON, time to get up. You need to go get in line for a ticket". I say something brilliant like, "Hey, you're Broadway Bob!” He nods, smiles, and reminds me to go get in line....

The scene is 1981, and a festive Saturday night -- check that, it's early Sunday MORNING -- and myself and the "Minnesota Mafia" are around the campfire in the campgrounds at Great Lakes. The Olympics of Drag Racing are well under way, we are consuming MANY malt-themed beverages, blasting the 8-track, and talking racing...or hot chicks...or music. Hell, who CARES, right? And we notice a white-haired gentleman making his way to our fire. (He is performing what my Old Man would call a "submarine course", which is weaving from side to side, to avoid depth charges.) Yes, of COURSE it's Broadway, who arrives, chugs off his beer, and announces, "Well, boys, I'm pretty ------ --." O.K., this is a FAMILY publication, so the best way I can describe the next two words are…um, alright, a slang word for procreation and a description of extreme altitude, got it? Anyway, we are honored, get him ANOTHER beer, and start socializing.


One of our group asks, in all sincerity, if any of the non-qualifiers from the (concurrently running) Cajun Nationals may be a part of Sunday’s racing. THIS, race fans, is where Broadway PROVES why he IS, Broadway Bob Metzler. Never mind that the Cajuns are over one THOUSAND miles away, easily a thirteen-PLUS hour haul, Broadway does not miss a beat. (Even in the shape he, Hell, ALL of us are in.) He begins wringing his hands (I ALWAYS picture him doing this!) and says..."Well, we haven't heard anything FIRM yet, but we are optimistic that even MORE cars will be arriving soon." A promoter is a PROMOTER, right? At this point, several Racine County Five-O approach us, "Are you ROBERT METZLER?" It seems some ruffians have been driving their four-wheel drive trucks through the local farmers’ fields, creating mayhem, and Broadway’s time at our bonfire is over, as his presence is needed "elsewhere."


I reached out to several other members of the old guard for stories, and a reoccurring mantra was, all their stories couldn't be printed! But good old Jerry Willkomm, who did tech and was sort of a de-facto event coordinator, pitched in. He told me of a golf outing in Kaukauna with Roger Van Daalwyk, and afterwards there was card playing. And drinking. A LOT of drinking! Jerry ends up the big winner that night, well, in terms of money anyway. He wakes up the next day, his winnings or what was LEFT of them scattered around the bed. Oh, and along for the ride is a snoring Broadway Bob! A combination of fleecing Jerry’s newfound wealth to pay for the rooms, along with the visual suggestion that shenanigans were afoot to boot!


Another time, Jerry and Broadway are heading to Bristol, Tenn., to lock up the upcoming 1975 IHRA Summernationals. During the flight, Bob asks Jerry for a favor, of the utmost importance. “Sure, Bob, what can I do for you?” Jerry responds. Bob begins saying that he has something of GREAT value, that his wife has been searching for, for a LONG time. It is of overwhelming value, and he needs Jerry to become its guardian, as "Mary is closing in on finding it, and that can't happen"! Jerry assures Broadway that he can be trusted with the task, but his mind is spinning with the possibilities of what is at stake, what could it be? Stocks and bonds, gold bars, the deed to the TRACK? Broadway reaches into his coat and pulls out...his little black book! "Keep this safe for me, my friend"! And Jerry says, little is just a metaphor, because the thing is HUGE, perhaps a thousand entries in this deal! Said artifact was kept secure for perhaps a year, before Bob asked for it back!


My friend 'Nitro Mary' was very helpful on this piece, as being a person close to Broadway during the final years, was a day to day fixture in his life. Bob pretty much paid special attention to Mary, a young struggling single mom. Not everyone got to see the softer side of Bob, but Mary sure did. She told many, MANY stories of how Broadway went out of his way to help her and Luke (the light of her life) and she wanted me to relay "the simple thought that someone not only took the time and paid attention to learn what things you like but to execute the plans to do those things for you. To most people these little stories would be boring and insignificant, but the memories these stories create means the world to me. He trusted me enough to give me the keys to his shop, which held the treasures of Bob’s world, and with those keys I opened that door every day of the week except Mondays, and had some of the best times of my life. Through Bob I not only made a wonderful friend in him, but made MANY, MANY more friends that have become like family. That store was the hub of some of the happiest times of my life. To ME, Broadway isn’t just this race legend, the best promoter on the planet, he was my dear friend and he was Luke’s ‘Mr. Bob.’ He and those dogs of his, Pumpkin Pie and Cupid, were definitely a unique trio. I miss his hugs goodbye at the end of each night and his kiss on the cheek while saying 'Thank you, blondie, for all your help today. I’ll see you and the boy tomorrow.’ But one day there wasn’t a tomorrow, and things at the track would never be the same again.”


In the final chapters of Broadway’s life, his wingman, and ultimately legal guardian was a wonderful man named Dougie, who does amazing pinstriping work. Doug and Broadway did a lot of traveling, and most of Dougie’s stories centered around their many trips to the SEMA Show. Since Bob was so well known, or knew so MANY, there were always star-struck moments going on. There was the time that George Barris, who was trying to sell the Monkee Mobile at the time, hailed Bob over, or the time Broadway spotted Tom “The Mongoo$e” McEwen from across the room.


But of all the stories Dougie shared, this is my favorite. It had been a long and tiring day, and while Broadway always had endless energy and his eye on the next good time, Dougie was feeling tired. They walked from the hall to the Hilton where they were staying, and upon entering the lobby, three bombshell broads approach Bob and begin chatting him up. Dougie, on the other hand, is exhausted and, feeling that Bob is a big boy who can take care of himself will be fine, he excuses himself and heads back to the room. However, upon entering the room, Dougie spots Bob’s phone and keys, still on the dresser! Concerned that he cannot contact Bob, and now with the notion that these (potentially 'working') girls might ROLL Broadway, he hustles back to the lobby. No Broadway, not a sign anywhere. Dougie goes back to the room and crashes out, but it's a restless sleep as he is worried about Bob. FINALLY, around five in the morning, there is a knock at the door, and thankfully it is an intact and smiling Broadway Bob! Dougie asks what happened with the three broads, and Bob says that they asked if he had money, and since Bob isn't STUPID, he said NO, and they moved along. Then Dougie asks Bob if he had remembered the room number, since his key was on the dresser. When Bob’s answer was NO, Dougie asked “How many doors have you KNOCKED on, Bob?” And the reply was, "Uhm, well, actually quite a few." Only Broadway Bob....


It fell to Dougie to have Broadway, his health failing and in need of proper care, to be placed in a nursing home. He orchestrated parties, which were wonderful reunions of all the old guard, and Broadway beamed like a lighthouse beacon every time!

It was at one such function in early summer 2012 that I had my last conversation with Broadway Bob. We watched a video called ASPHALT DIGOUT, which had highlights from the first race I ever attended at Great Lakes. I did some race commentary, and told him how I owed everything to him, and what he had created on those hallowed acres in southern Wisconsin. With one frail hand, he took mine, and with his other, began tapping his heart. He was telling me something, but I truly couldn't make it all out. It was clear he was happy that I came, though. Having forgotten something in the car, I excused myself. Walking down a seemingly endless hallway, past countless rooms with broken, forgotten people - people who were NOT getting a party today or sadly, probably ANY day, overwhelmed me, and when I got to the car, I went to pieces, like a house of cards in a tornado.


But here’s the thing. Legend has it that Broadway used the scratch he made running card games during his days in the service to buy what became Great Lakes Dragaway. And while life can deal Jokers to some in their final days, Bob had clearly been dealt the Ace of Hearts, as so many showed up to express their love. Less than two months after that afternoon in Kenosha, he had left this plane and moved on to the next, and he is probably working the crowds there, being the Master of Ceremonies, and the Pied Piper of all things fun and good.


My life, and countless others were made so much better because of a man, a man named Robert Metzler. God bless you, my friend. Broadway, some day I will indeed …  C-Yaaaaaaaaaaa....  



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