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At The Finish Line
September 27, 1928 - July 27, 2012
When word spread of the death of Robert W. Metzler on Friday, July 27, 2012, social media was immediately flooded with thousands of farewells, comments and remembrances of one of the most revered individuals in the history of the hot rodding industry. Metzler had been in failing health for several years and his imminent passing was accepted by his closest friends and even Metzler himself. Yet, even on his final day, few of the millions influenced by Metzler accurately recognized the lasting effects of the phenomenal life lived by the man known as “Broadway Bob”.
In all walks of life, the term “legend” is reserved for those whose achievements rank far above those of their peers and the few who accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. Within drag racing, Metzler exceeded the label of “legend” and encroached upon mythic status. The title was for good reason; the innumerable stories of the escapades of the man were, quite simply, all true.
His reputation was no accident. Bob Metzler was a promotional genius who eventually turned himself into one of the most recognizable individuals in the sport despite never having won a trophy. Metzler was bigger than life; he made certain of it. Using a fifty-one acre plot of land four miles west of Kenosha, Wisconsin, as a canvas, Metzler painted a life of extraordinary risk, infallible intuition, outrageous behavior and incredibly hard work. The finished portrait reflected every attribute of the man through his final minutes on the planet.
Metzler was born just south of Green Bay, Wisc., and raised during the Great Depression with an ethic of doing whatever was deemed necessary to achieve goals. It was a stint in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War that took Metzler from the upper Midwest to southern California. Already a fan of auto racing, Metzler often attended events at legendary SoCal oval tracks, but was invited by friends to view an entirely new form of competition; in 1951, Metzler watched cars accelerate from a standstill over a straight-line quarter-mile distance in at a small airstrip in Santa Ana during races presented by C.J. Hart. Metzler enjoyed what he saw and noticed the paying spectators enjoyed it even more.
During his military service, Metzler honed a previously hidden ability to his first major success: Bob Metzler was a gambler. After losing money in a few after-hours card games, Metzler noticed the dealer held a distinct advantage in the game of blackjack. He learned all he could of blackjack odds and began holding his own games during weekends. Since the position of dealer was highly sought by potential “customers”, Metzler took every stimulant available in order to begin play on Friday night and maintain control of the deck until late Sunday evening. He may not have been a better Marine but, by the time he left the service and returned to Milwaukee in 1955, Bob Metzler was a fairly wealthy man.