Ohio’s Summit Motorsports Park, one off the most economically successful drag racing facilities in the nation, was set to open its 2020 racing schedule last weekend, April 11, with the 39th annual Spring Warmup. Tomorrow, it would have hosted a test and tune leading into its first points race on Saturday. Instead, 23 of its 26 full-time staff have been laid off, 430 seasonal staff are halted, and its second-generation owner, Bill Bader, Jr., is no longer providing himself a salary. A keen businessman who stays tuned to world events and politics — understanding the various and direct ways in which they effect his business and event planning — Bader is dazed by the decisions that are wreaking havoc on his raceway and the months of preparation than went into his 2020 season. And now, he says he’s had enough.
“We have a lot of people who we are responsible for. So, when you’re Summit Motorsports Park, when you do anything, you create an event, you produce a schedule, there is a hierarchy, there is an order. There are months and months involved in creating a schedule, in creating a year, and now we are unraveling that. We’re being asked to unwrap it. It’s not as simple as moving things around. We serve a lot of masters,” Bader says.
Bader continued in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday evening from his office, confirming that he intends to open his racetrack, with or without federal, state, or local government approval. In effect, he must, in order to stay in business.
There are no monies for me…there’s lot of well intention, and there are government entities saying, ‘we feel really bad, we’ll do anything we can for you,’ but nobody has written me a check. And in lies the problem…we are starving.
“I think safety is of paramount importance. Is a human life priceless, or is it irreplaceable? I understand the importance of safety, the importance of following procedure and protocol. But if you look at the numbers as a result of COVID-19, they are a fraction of projection. Whoever drove this machine, led us to believe this was going to be a catastrophic loss of life, and that’s proving out now that that’s certainly not going to be the case. And yet, the media is not taking their foot off the gas,” Bader says.
“I don’t question the decision made by our President [to give policy decisions to state and local authorities], but what we have playing out now is a situation where we now have empowered and enabled all of these people [our local and state leaders] that if they had their way, they would save every human life, and the question I would ask them is, ‘at what expense?’ If we are able to save every life and limit and ultimately mitigate any outbreaks, but in the process of that, we all starve to death, then what did we accomplish?
“The reality of it is that many of us feel we are approaching a stage where it is safe to re-engage, it is safe to go back outside, and I think the American people want to go back to work. I think that is evident, and you’re seeing all of these peaceful protests, that in the days and weeks to come will become less peaceful.”
Despite small business loans and stimulus checks designed to save businesses or mitigate the economic difficulties of operations like his, Bader says Summit Motorsports Park has received no such support. He is thankful, however, for the outpouring of backing from the racing community.
In the interest of self-preservation and wanting to maintain an incredible legacy that my family started here in 1974, we are opening this racetrack.
“There are no monies for me…there’s lot of well intention, and there are government entities saying, ‘we feel really bad, we’ll do anything we can for you,’ but nobody has written me a check. And in lies the problem…we are starving. As honest as I can possibly be, we have laid off nearly our entire full-time staff. On payroll, there are three people left here. They have all taken a pay cut. I am no longer receiving a paycheck. So the team is five of us.”
Bader continues: “Business is not done in the theoretical, business is done in reality, and reality is different,” Bader goes on to say. “In the case of Summit Motorsports Park, the reality of it is that we’ve had a couple wet years. I spent $1.5 million on a new racing surface, I spent $500,000 in lighting upgrades. I bought land, 130 acres. About $3.5 million I’ve spent in the last three years. Why? Because I wanted to have a nicer facility. The Bader way has always been to reinvest everything you had in your racetrack…that was my dad’s philosophy, and that’s my philosophy. The problem is, there was nothing in the war-chest. I didn’t plan for a pandemic, I didn’t put money away for the rainy day. I spent, because I believed in the future. And so we find ourselves in a position that is an uncomfortable one. I must get open. And so, we are opening. Summit Motorsports Park is not going to wait for permission, Summit Motorsports Park is not going to wait for Dr. Fauci, and wait for Amy Acton [director of health for the Ohio Department of Health], and wait for Mike DeWine [Governor of Ohio], because none of them even know I exist, and none of them really care. And at this point, in the interest of self-preservation and wanting to maintain an incredible legacy that my family started here in 1974, we are opening this racetrack. We will open this year.”
Bader will announce a revised track schedule next week, including a rescheduled opening day of racing activity. As he says, with or without permission from the governor.
“Please understand something, and hear me when I say this: I am not asking, I am opening. There is a certain amount of risk in that, but I will tell you this: as I sit here at this desk, I am being asked to sit here and slowly, daily, hourly, and by the minute, to die. And I don’t do that well. I’m not going to sit passively by and watch my family’s hard work go down the drain at the hands of machine that I don’t even understand.”
‘I’m certainly going to make every attempt to work within the framework of what we can and can’t do, but this is unconstitutional. I’m not going to be reckless, and I’m going to embrace social distancing and everything that I can do, but I’m going to open. I want to work with the community, but the truth of it is, if we can’t open until next year, then I’m done. What I said in that video is as honest as I could be…it’s open the track, or we close our doors. I don’t want be a second generation owner that has to live with seeing my father’s legacy and it’s place in the industry go down on my watch. And I’m not going to sit here and passively let it happen what I feel it’s wrong.
Bader confirmed that his track could survive the year — at this time he says the mission for 2020 is no longer to turn a profit, but simply to make it to next April — on large participation events that draw fewer fans, although such an approach doesn’t align with his mission as an entertainment promoter. The Summit Racing Equipment Nationals and the Night Under Fire both routinely draw sellout, maximum capacity spectator crowds.
“The long and short of it is, there was an overreaction to COVID-19, and nobody is willing to step up and say we overreacted. Nobody is willing to step up and get the American people back to work and get the country back open. They want to shut this country down for as long as possible. As the saying goes, government will not save you, it’s time to save yourselves. And that’s what we’re going to do — we’re going to get back to the business of family entertainment here at Summit Motorsports Park. With God as my witness, we are opening this racetrack in 2020, and we are opening sooner rather than later. When a man has no options, his path becomes clear.”
Bader says in closing, “I am going to work with my county to ensure that I am doing everything that I possibly can, but when they turn the heat up, am I going to turn tail and run? Hell no.”