As NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series, Lucas Oil Sportsman Series, FuelTech Pro Mod Drag Racing Series were racing at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio for the 15th time, its master planner, Bill Bader Sr., who took Norwalk Dragway and transformed the moribund track into a drag racing destination, died on race day, June 26.
Bader, who spent 40 years making Summit Motorsports Park into one of the most beloved circuits on both the NHRA and IHRA tours was not at his track this particular day, but was enjoying some personal time away. The Bader family said the 79-year-old succumbed to injuries suffered in an accident near his Idaho home.
“It is with a heavy heart,” said Bill Bader Jr., “that I share the news that this afternoon, my dad was involved an 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.”
Bader bought the Norwalk track in 1974 and both planned and executed its necessary treatments to improve the facility and make it a true destination for any straight-line race fan. His improvements showed the operator’s dedication to the fans, the competitors and the sanctioning organizations by making the racing surface among the best in the industry, by improving parking, grandstands and even a children’s playground.
In addition to its annual NHRA visit, Summit Motorsports Park has played host to the (both fan- and participant-beloved) exhibition Night Under Fire in August (this year marks its 44th running), an annual Halloween Classic and as the crown jewel of IHRA’s racing series, hosting its World Finals. Bader Sr managed the track for 24 years until turning it over to son Bill Jr. in 1998. He briefly served as president of IHRA.
The track has long been known for its congeniality to race fans who enjoyed fireworks shows at the close of each day’s action and where one could purchase a signature pound of ice cream for a single dollar. On most NHRA visits in late June or early July, that ice cream has been most welcome.
“We are deeply saddened over the tragic loss of Bill Bader Sr., who built an extraordinary legacy in the sport,” said Glen Cromwell, NHRA president. “With an incredible work ethic and a remarkable dedication to hospitality, Bill taught us al important lessons on how to make a race a memorable experience for drag racing fans.”