Bill Bader is an iconic figure in drag racing history. His involvement with the IHRA changed the face of professional drag racing. He has been involved in promoting motorsports most of his adult life and remains one of the most influential men in the sport. He’s a driving force behind the recently renamed and resanctioned Summit Motorsports Park (SMP), near Norwalk, OH, which this year changed from being an IHRA sanctioned track to moving over to the National Hot Rod Association. While his son Bill Bader Jr runs the Norwalk facility on a day-to-day basis Bill Bader Sr continues to work there today as head of Park Services. In 1998, he took sole possession of the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), restoring it to respectability over the next few years before selling controlling interest to Clear Channel (now LiveNation) and stepping back to relax and reassess. The Bader family still holds two of the five seats on the IHRA board of directors.
Revered by many and reviled by some, Bill Bader Sr., 64, still commands attention when he speaks, as he did recently with DRO’s Ian Tocher while giving his first extensive interview since giving up control of the IHRA nearly three years ago.
How did you spend your time immediately after leaving IHRA in November 2004?
Bader: I spent the first few months just catching my breath. I have a place in the Rockies in Idaho. Deb, my wife, has a back problem and she can't travel very well, so the first year (2005) I did some work with some track operators who called and asked me quietly if I could give them some help with their track schedules, racing formats, programs, planning some events, that kind of stuff. I had a lot of fun, traveled to three or four events, took some people with me and helped track operators put on some select events and very much enjoyed the year. I worked behind the scenes.
At the end of that year we lost Deb's father, so between her father and her mother, who had some medical problems, but chemo and radiation (treatments) took care of all those problems and she's doing great right now. Deb was obligated to her family, so I just wrapped myself up with working with these tracks. I very much enjoyed it, but at the end of '05 I didn't even want to do that. I wanted a change, away from motorsports.
So I was happily motoring along in '06 when Billy called me and we evaluated the race at Norwalk and looked at the options for '07 and beyond and he said, ‘Dad, I'd like to make some improvements at the racetrack.’
Where these improvements required for staging an NHRA National Event?
Bader: Yes, When the NHRA national event because available, that changed our plans dramatically. Suddenly, a press room that would draw more people had to be more than just a room and the need for pavement to accommodate the pro teams and some of these sportsman teams like the Alcohol Funny Cars and Nitro Alley became stronger. Of course, if you're going to do all that pavement work you don't want to dig it up again to do all the lighting work and wiring work, so then things like storm sewers, passways for the wiring to handle the light demands and the PA demands became obvious, as well as skyboxes and suites.
So we came up with a far bigger expansion program. When that became a reality in mid-September, I was knee-deep in deciding in what we needed to do and then meeting with an architect and design engineer to see if it was feasible. I did work with the city and they voted unanimously to let us tap into the city sewers.