The sport of drag racing has lost another of its legends.
Robert “Broadway Bob” Metzler, the former owner of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Dragaway and one of the most famous drag racing promoters of all-time during his 40-year tenure, passed away on Friday at Manor Care of Kenosha at the age of 83.
Metzler helped found the Great Lakes Dragaway back in 1954 and was the driving force behind its rise to drag racing fame for 40 years before stepping down as owner in 1994. Metzler sold the track to Randy Henning, who later referred to “Broadway” as the “P.T. Barnum of drag racing promotion”.
A Green Bay native that grew up in Milwaukee, Metzler conceived the idea for the Great Lakes Dragaway while serving in the Marine Corps at California’s Camp Pendleton. In 1954, construction began at the Union Grove, Wisc. site located less than an hour from Milwaukee and just over an hour from Chicago. The quarter-mile racing surface and the remaining construction on the property was completed in 1956 and Metzler and his partners were off to the races.
Racing has commenced every season since ’56, and along the way Metzler bought out his partners and became sole owner of the dragstrip in 1976.
Metzler earned the “Broadway Bob” monicker in 1959 when a drag strip announcer, remarking on his outlandish and flashy attire that included flamed sweatpants and neon-colored tee shirts, proclaimed, “look at you — are you from Broadway?”
Metzler’s flamboyance made him a household drag racing name, but it was his knack for promotion that made Great Lakes Dragaway legendary.
“Broadway” promoted the “Olympics of Drag Racing” beginning in the late 1950′s, and instantly brought national attention to the track at a time when southern California ruled the roost. Metzler experienced first-hand the hotbed of the sport during his Marine tour in SoCal, and he brought that inspiration back to the midwest region.
The lasting image of Metzler will forever be his signature ride atop the nose of a myriad of jet cars. Beginning in the 1960′s, “Broadway” became famous for riding down the Great Lakes strip on the nose of the car, a beer in his hand while the drivers performed low-speed jet “pops” to the delight of generations of fans.
Although he stepped down as owner and operator in 1994, “Broadway” remained a regular part of the Great Lakes Dragaway community as late as 2008, operating a memorabilia and flea market stand and signing autographs for fans every single day that the track was open.
Metzler was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and the Jet Car Hall of Fame.
Services for “Broadway Bob” will be held Friday, August 3 in Union Grove, with services on August 4 at the VA Cemetery.