Bill Bader, Sr., widely regarded as one of drag racing’s most influential businessmen, has died. The Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, the track he bought in 1973 and transformed into the facility by which all others in the sport are measured, announcing Bader’ passing in a statement Sunday evening, just hours after the conclusion of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at the Bader family’s very track.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that this afternoon, my dad was involved in an accident on the mountain he so deeply loved and passed away. I will share more information as it becomes available. Know that my father loved you.”
“We are deeply saddened over the tragic loss of Bill Bader Sr., who built an extraordinary legacy in the sport,” said NHRA President Glen Cromwell in a prepares statement. “With an incredible work ethic and a remarkable dedication to hospitality, Bill taught us all important lessons on how to make a race a memorable experience for drag racing fans. He turned Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park into one of the premier facilities on the NHRA tour, and one that was loved by all racers and NHRA fans. On behalf of everyone at NHRA, we offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Bill Bader Sr.”
Dormant for much of its first 10 years of existence, Bader, Sr. acquired what was then known as Norwalk Dragway and orchestrated a series of significant improvements over the next three decades, converting into a world-class racing venue.
Bader told the Bowling Green Daily News in 2016, when he was being honored as the grand marshal of the NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, that he had once been a pre-med student, but walked out of class one day and never returned.
“I raced for nine years before I ended up thinking I was smarter than the track operator, and at that time I was 27 years old,” Bader said. “At 26 and a half, I took off the helmet and learned how to use a calculator. I went from the cockpit of a race car to I guess the office, or the control tower, of my first race track.”
Bader had been exclusively an oval-track racer, but at a spry 27, invested in his first, and it turned out, only, dragstrip.
The draw of the facility, combined with his promotional prowess, made annual staples such as the Halloween Classic, the world-famous Night Under Fire, and the IHRA’s crown-jewel World Nationals, can’t-miss races on the calendar for legions of fans in Ohio and beyond. Bader, Sr. handed the reigns to his pride and joy to his son, Bill, Jr. in 1998, and assumed the presidency of the IHRA for a time. He retired from the sport that he helped shape so much of in the early 2000s, taking on a quieter life in the state of Idaho.
“I’ve attended so many races, I’ve promoted so many events – if I never saw another race, I’m sure my life would be just fine,” Bader said. “What I miss the most are the people, the friends we’ve made over the years.
Bader, Sr. was 79. We will have more on this developing story as information becomes available.