Bill Bader Sr., who took an inoperable Ohio dragstrip named Norwalk Dragway and over the course of more than 40 years transformed it into a fan favorite facility, passed away June 26, shortly after the completion of the track’s annual NHRA Camping World Series event, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. He was 79 and succumbed to injuries suffered in an accident near his home.
"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. "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."
Summit Motorsports Park, “America’s Race Track,” was a place where eager race goers and racers were greeted like family, where you could get a signature pound of ice cream for just $1, where stadium-worthy fireworks shows ended each day of a major event, and where championship drag racing of the highest caliber was contested.
Bader purchased the track in 1974 and slowly began a long and well-orchestrated series of improvements that covered everything from the racing surface to parking to the grandstands and even the children’s playground.
The track has long hosted other signature events, such as the Halloween Classic and Night Under Fire, and long was the crown jewel of the IHRA racing series. Bader managed the track until 1998, when he turned over control to his son Bill Jr., and briefly assumed the presidency of the IHRA.
The Baders joined the NHRA Member track legion and the national event schedule with the first running of its NHRA event in 2007 and have hosted the popular event every year since, save for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Universally beloved by his loyal fans and racers from every class, Bill Bader Sr. left behind a legacy of showmanship and hospitality that may never be matched.