Story continues below this advertisement
|Bill New presenting a trophy to Kris Krabill at last year’s Ignitor. (Brian Losness photo)|
It is a sad day in drag racing…hell, it’s a sad day in the world. Billy Joe “Bill” New passed away Feb. 11, 2014, at his home in Eagle, Idaho, at age 79.
I had just spoken with Bill and his son John a couple of weeks ago, as Bill dropped off his beloved ‘40 Ford at Westside Body Works to have some items updated and fixed on the car. He was in good spirits and looking forward to cruising in the ‘40 this spring.
Bill New was not just a track owner and operator of Firebird Raceway. Bill New was the last of the great promoters. However, this was not his first direction in life.
Bill served in the Army, and after his honorable discharge, he met and married his beloved Ellanor. They met when she was a flight attendant for American Airlines and Bill was a loan appraiser for Glendale Saving and Loan. A trip to Idaho garnered him an opportunity to get into sales. What did he sell? Well, of course, being Idaho -- potatoes.
He was successful at sales, but being around cars and racing was his passion.
Bill New had a vision in 1968 to start a drag strip and a trout farm outside of Boise, Idaho. Well, as Bill once told the late great Steve Evans, “The trout all died but the track survived.”
The track did more than survive; it thrived under Bill’s leadership. And, as all successful people do who are in those leadership positions, New taught his three sons, Scott, John, and Brad, the business of being race track promoters. However, Bill made sure the three boys knew every level of the business. They boys all learned from the bottom up.
From Bill’s military experience, he understood firm direction and dedication. I remember Bill saying to me one day, “The boys learned everything from how to clean toilets and mop floors, to cooking in the concession stands, selling merchandise, working on the starting line, cleaning up oil downs, and everything else to run the business. It is an old Army thing: Don’t send someone to do something, that you yourself is not willing to do.”
Bill had done all of that in getting Firebird Raceway going and he passed that work ethic along to his sons.
Bill New was one of the last original owner promoters of racetracks in the United States. He did this with a firm hand and firm conviction. Bill saw a way of doing things and he was convinced it was the correct way. Whatever the project or task was, the process was thought out thoroughly and that was way it would be.
Now at times there were racers who might have questioned his reasons or methods. I can say for certain that Bill New’s attitude towards that doubt was “If you don’t like my gate, then don’t swing on it.”
Moreover, Bill was one who gave credit where credit was due. He would complement people on their achievements, whether it was racer, track worker or media member. The compliment was very heartfelt and genuine. If you were lucky to have him call you over and say “I need to tell you something” you knew it was from the heart. I was lucky enough to have that happen a couple of times, and when Bill put his hand on your shoulder and said, “You did a great job on that article” or “That photograph was just fantastic”, it made it feel like all the effort put into your work was worthwhile.
Bill not only had a long relationship with the NHRA, but also carried a great deal of influence with the AHRA, many years ago. Scott New tells of times they would be on the road selling merchandise on the AHRA tour back in the day.
The contacts Bill made would lead to the stars of drag racing venturing up to run at Boise. Name like Prudhomme, Muldowney, Force, Densham and Beadle all came through the gates and entertained the capacity crowds at Firebird because of Bill New’s work.
To this day, the Pepsi Nightfire Nationals in one of the biggest stops on the NHRA Heritage Series, and as Adam Sorokin put it in 2012, winning the Nightfires is just like winning a championship.
Firebird Raceway under Bill’s guidance earned the distinction of a three-time NHRA Track of the Year and a seven-time Division 6 Track Team Finals champion. Bill was also selected by NHRA founder Wally Parks to serve on the NHRA National Track Operator’s Council for the Northwest Division.
Bill New was the embodiment of the entrepreneur, willing to take risk, work hard and achieve success. He will be missed greatly by not only those who knew him but by the entire drag racing community. God speed, Bill New.