Bill Bader Sr. reveals track favorites and business gems in our first story celebrating the 2013 Golden Anniversary of Summit Motorsports Park
- Tuesday 01 January, 2013
NORWALK, Ohio -- Come along for a front porch visit with Bill Bader Sr. as part of the 2013 Golden Anniversary celebrations at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
You’ve always wanted to know what he was thinking when he bought the property and how he muscled his way through the lean years, haven’t you?
Bill Bader Sr. may have retired from the presidency of Summit Motorsports Park, but his “front porch” gathers dragsters, motorcycles and door cars instead of rocking chairs.
And the most important items you’ll find on his front porch are people.
Come along. Let’s visit with “Senior:”
Started in a farm field in 1963, Norwalk Dragway needed a new owner, a new vision by the early 1970’s.
“In the winter of 1973-1974 we were just looking to expand our involvement in motorsports,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “I had the Speedway in Sandusky at that time. The off seasons gave us a chance to reflect on what we did, but not be proactive.”
Sandusky Speedway operated four months of the year, from May through August.
“We had an awful lot of time we weren’t operating,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We were looking to increase our involvement in motorsports. The dragway was so close it seemed like a natural.”
Norwalk Dragway owner Vince Schubert asked someone to approach Bill Bader Sr. about the purchase.
“Mr. Schubert was anxious to have someone in here and operating it,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “He didn’t want it to be dormant.
“It was convenient. We saw an opportunity. We seized it,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “It was off to the races.”
The longer season at the dragstrip -- from April through October -- broadened the footprint in their motorsports ventures, said Bill Bader Sr.
As Sandusky Speedway crew members gathered talents they applied them to Norwalk, said Bill Bader Sr.
“I think we certainly did develop a vision,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “But clearly we just wanted to make a living in something we enjoyed.
“The Speedway gave me an opportunity to go to work every day excited, overjoyed literally every day,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “It’s not like going into a factory which I hated.”
The scenario creating the most satisfaction in the heart of Bill Bader Sr. includes opening the gates wide for great races, welcoming racers who are happy and ready to come back, and showing fans a great time.
Part of the business growth included developing relationships with sponsors, beginning with local businesses, then spreading to regional and national sponsors.
“Then we did have a vision,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We used the word, ‘front porch.’ How did people perceive us through phone calls, signage, the gates when people pull in, parking, ticket sellers, various officials, security officers, ushers, food and beverage vendors, then competition officials.
“It all became developing an experience people could enjoy,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We believe excellent employee experiences would lead to super guest or customer experiences, which leads ultimately again to a great Norwalk to Summit Motorsports Park experience.
“It all goes hand in hand,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We developed that approach early on in the first year.”
Cleanliness and maintenance received similar scrutiny.
“It was important that we had curb appeal, that our ‘front porch’ looked good,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “Second, it was the entertainment program. They didn’t come out here to look at our grandstands or grass.
“We learned to exceed their expectations,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “That would generate the income. It all went hand in hand. Every bit of that was planned. We started to understand the order was important.”
Eventually the day came in late 1997 when Bill Bader Sr. handed the keys to what was then Norwalk Raceway Park to his son, Bill Bader Jr., the current president of Summit Motorsports Park.
Co-owner with his son, Bill Bader Sr. serves on the Board of Directors, plans events and finesses marketing.
“Bill worked with me from when he was 10 years old, and Bobbie started two years later when she was 10 years old,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “They worked with me side by side so many years. When the time came to turn the keys over to Bill, there was comfort there. I knew his goals matched mine.
“He was filled with those exact same details, the exact same goals,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “I knew they would work hard to accomplish the same things I would accomplish. They knew how to do it, and they wanted to do it. There was no worry or concern at all.
“I’m proud of what they have accomplished,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “What I missed were the people. I missed the staff around me; I missed customers who came every week, the sponsors.
“That is clearly what I miss,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “But it’s Billy’s time; it’s Bobbie’s time; it’s their turn.
“I don’t feel I need to meddle,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “It’s frustrating at times, when they do something different from what I would do. I say, ‘I would do it differently…’ But then I say, ‘But it’s working their way.’
“It doesn’t mean my way is the only way,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “You want to jump right in, but you have to use restraint and let them do it their way.”
The Bill Bader Sr. satisfaction quotient includes providing a super experience to all guests -- racers, fans, sponsors and suitcase promoters who rent the facility.
“I enjoy it the most when everyone is happy,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “We have a big turnout and the fans are pumped up and happy.
“During the Halloween Classic the pits are full and the racers are happy to be here.
“Those are the rewards.”
He chose two personal favorite jobs in the park.
“The position I like working is the head of staging,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “Being the guy who interacts with the racers and gets acquainted with them a little bit. It’s fast and quick, and you have to keep them moving along. You have to be 100 percent on your game.
“I also enjoy working as an event manager, coordinating an event from start to finish,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “It’s like being a general on the hill watching the war take place.”
Bill Bader Sr. feels most proud of the relationships built over the years with all of the guests: racers, fans, sponsors and traveling promoters.
“The respect we have for them and they have for us,” Bill Bader Sr. said. “Being able to call those people our friends; see them; give them a hug; knowing their wife, their children.
“The people side of it.”
So, welcome to the Golden Anniversary of Summit Motorsports Park.
With a little help from our friends, more stories -- reminiscing about the great, the grand, and the quirky through the last 50 years -- are planned, along with special races and events, old and new.
We’re celebrating all year!