Bill Bader Jr. could only look and scratch his head. His beloved drag strip, Norwalk Raceway Park, now branded as Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, was under feet of compacted clay as it absorbed inches of rain.

He had only three weeks to return this pristine facility to its normal state before the greatest one-day drag race show, the Cornwell Tools Night Under Fire, rolled into town. Even more pressing, he only had four days in which to return the racing surface to its best for a drag racing event. Just four days earlier, he and his team had pulled off an equally impressive miracle of sorts. 

For the second-generation drag strip owner, he had flashbacks to 1981, the first year the Norwalk dragstrip was to host an IHRA national event facility. Bader was then a middle schooler, and Dad had pulled him out of school for a week with workdays that spanned from 6 AM until 2 AM.

Lunch was nothing more than cheeseburgers tossed out of a window by a passing truck.

"I think dad had the vision and the foresight, but even he had to think he'd bitten off more than he could chew," Bader recalled in an article chronicling the impossible dream.

Just weeks ago, Bader found himself in the same precarious position.

On July 21, 2022, the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League was set to kick off its inaugural event at the facility outside Cleveland, Ohio. Just getting the facility prepared was going to be a massive undertaking.

Four days before the tractor pull was to kick off, the staff, which Bader describes as lean and mean in terms of numbers, began washing the glue from the racing surface before putting down what was expected to be 1400 sheets of plywood to work as a buffer between the racing surface and the clay. However, the lack of available plywood forced Bader and his team to put down a fine layer of sand instead.





Two days before the event was to kick off, 100 truckloads of clay were put on top of the sand. The event kicked off perfectly on Thursday, and by Friday, the pulling surface was among the best in the business.

Then, the familiar villian hit Norwalk on Saturday. A couple of inches fell on Norwalk, forcing the cancellation of the day's action and, inevitably, the event.

"The PPL doesn't generally race on Sunday," Bader explained. "The second problem, there were contractors lined up to start removing the clay at 7:00 AM Sunday."

Six days later, the Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Blue Suede Cruise was scheduled to hit the track, one that on this Sunday morning was anything but what those hot rods needed.

"By 5:00 PM, all the clay was gone," Bader said. "The majority of the sand was gone. Then literally, we worked all night Sunday, I think all but for two hours. We worked 20-to-22-hour days Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday removing every grain of sand. The guard walls were stained, so we had to power-wash the walls.

"Commercial grade street sweepers were not effective at the fine work. They moved a lot of big piles, but they also discharged a lot of stuff into the air that ended up landing right back on the racetrack.

Bader and his team did it the old-fashioned way.

"We got on our hands and knees to get around the guard walls, get around the starting line, get into the literal nooks and crannies for 4,000 feet," Bader explained. "It was a job unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. Literally from the time that track was installed on, or cleaning on the 17th, we spent 12 days pretty much working around the clock to install that and remove that and clean."

On the first day of the Blue Suede Cruise, NDRL Pro 7.0 cars went through the traps at 220 miles per hour.

So if some of the staff look like zombies headed into this Saturday's marquee event on the SREMP schedule, now you know why.

"It just took a toll, the World Series of Pulling was the lead event of four in a row, followed by the Blue Suede Crews, the Night Under Fire, and the Pontiac Nationals," Bader said. "To do those four events back to back was more of a challenge than I could have expected when I put the schedule together last fall."

Forgive Bader; he's got too much of his father's will to pull off the impossible in his genes.

Add in son Evan, now in a leadership role with the track, coming down with Covid, and then Bader found himself right amid the battle to get ready for the weekend's event.

It was as if Senior was right in the midst of the action.

Bill Bader Sr. passed away on June 26, 2022, following an accident on his property in Idaho. His passing came on the final day of the Summit NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

"If you mean I took on his spirit; if you mean I was fiery and pushy and obnoxious," Bader admitted. "I mean, it was a fight. I mean, you don't know until you try. And so, it was interesting."

Interesting, in fact, Bader contacted the NDRL, the promoters of the Blue Suede, days before to share his doubts about having the track ready for their event.

"The tractor pull people; they're used to going to fairgrounds," Bader explained. "So, coming to a stadium, if you will, and to clean facility, friendly faces, great amenities, it definitely made a big impression on the pulling world. So we'll see what we do going forward. There was a lot of positive that came out of it, for sure. But, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of freaking work."

On the other side of the Blue Suede Cruise was this weekend's extravaganza.

How vital is the Cornwell Tools Night Under Fire for Bader and his team?

"It's our biggest event of the year," Bader declared. "It's our signature event. It's what we're known for. It's our identity. It's the shield. It's the most important event we do all year."

The event, now in its 45th season, was the first significant event for the Bader Family following the Senior's purchase of the facility in 1974. Before this, Goodyear had rented the track for tire testing. He had a game plan from day one to merge the business of drag racing with the entertainment industry.

"When my dad bought the track, there were a couple of things that were absolutes in his mind, and he did share this with me a lot," Bader revealed. "He talked about how it was important for promoters to do what they say they were going to do because they never did. It was important that promoters start on time because they never could.

"There were just some general or fundamental things that he wanted in his business plan. I'm going to do what I say I'm going to do. And I'm going to start on time. And then the idea of having guests in your home just kind of went from there. He identified that very early that we were in the entertainment business."

Bader just looked at the tattered, initial brochure and compared it to this year's shows, an evolution few could have envisioned.

"The first event was comprised of a couple of jet cars and a couple of wheel standards, and that's how it started," Bader recalled. "I don't remember a lot of the specifics of it because I was ten years old, but I remember being here, and it just grew from there."

Though Bader has been pretty much hands-off of the facility since his son took over almost two decades ago, he did return last year to be a part of the team. Bader looks back, shaking his head at "Dad being Dad," and the reality hits him head-on. This will be the first without him.

"Up until last year, he had not been on property since 2015," Bader said. "So we had run Night Under Fires without Dad. I asked him to come back last year to help. So we've run Night Under Fires without my dad on property, but this will be the first Night Under Fire without my dad being alive.

"I'm not going to lie to you. It feels strange. After the event, I would always call him, tell him how the event did, and then we would meet in November, and he always thought that I overspent. He always said, 'Bill, you're spending too much money on talent, and you've got too much talent, and you don't need this much stuff."





Bader said his Dad was usually in lock-step with him on running the strip.

"I can't tell you that there was one time, and I'm wracking my brain. I can't tell you one time that he overruled a decision I made," Bader said. "That's not to say that we didn't have heated arguments or spirited discussions, but he never did that. Now, that's not to say that I didn't get his input or his two cents worth, because I got that whether I wanted it or not, but I never sat at a desk, or a table, or in his living room, or in his dining room where he said, 'We're doing it this way."

Well, there was last year's Night Under Fire.

"I asked him to come to last year's Night Under Fire," Bader admitted.

"We were closed in '20," Bader explained. "We had a banner year in '21. What I didn't know in '21 was that people didn't want to work and that there would be all the supply chain interruptions. So in January, February, and March, I was wide-eyed and excited to be open. Then, we live in a tourist area, Cedar Point announces they're going to pay people 20 bucks an hour, and all of a sudden, game on in this region to try to hire people. We employ 430 event staff, and last year we were about a hundred light the entire year.

"So, once I realized in April, May, and June, when I couldn't get people to work for the national event, I asked Dad if he would come back and help at Night Under Fire. I think he was thrilled to be asked. Keep in mind, he's living in northern Idaho, where the world is more normal post-COVID than it is in other parts of the country. So, his world was more normal than my world."

Bader said it took only 30 minutes, and his Dad was reliving the 1981 experience of preparing the track for the first IHRA national event.

"He's on property for 30 minutes, and it's like a freaking tornado comes through town," Bader said. "He's got this changed, and that changed, and he's involved in this, and I said, 'Listen to me. Just run the race, okay? We've got a script. Just run the race. Can you do that? Can you just run the race?"

"He said, 'Okay, I'll run the race."

Having the elder Bader there kept the son on his toes, along with many issues, including Bob Motz's mechanical failure and a major power outage that shut the track down.

"Monday rolls around, and I'm feeling pretty defeated because we had this incredible show planned," Bader admitted. "We came out of COVID in 2020, and I want to just deliver this epic, memorable event. It's like we're back. We have these things with Motz and with the power outage. So we meet on Monday, and he presents me two pages of things that he sees wrong."

Dad's list included a park services guy without a name tag. A show car coordinator had his shirt tail out.

"I blow up," Bader said. "I absolutely explode because he thinks it's business as usual. I am aware that it's not business as usual. We're light staff. I couldn't get anything that I needed with all these supply chain interruptions, and so I just felt like... I said to him, 'I see all this stuff. I'm aware of all of it. I see it."

He said, 'Well, I didn't know if you did or not."

Indeed, Dad had taught his son well. He noticed every shortcoming.

"My dad was all in," Bader explained. "He couldn't come in, do his job, and hop on a plane, and go back to Idaho. He was just being Dad. At the end of the conversation, and again, we had spirited words, and I did tell him if he wanted to climb down off of his mountain and come back here and run this place, that'd be great because I'd find something else to do.

"So in the end, we kissed and hugged and made up, and he said, 'Are you going to invite me back next year?"

"I said, 'I don't know. I will let you know."





Now, Dad will be there in spirit, and that's a tough pill for Bader to swallow, but he understands the elder will be there in the procedures his son learned from him.

"Philosophically understanding what our strengths were, what our core competencies were, I never changed the formula; the formula is the same," Bader said. "The guest-first mentality; we're inviting people, we're inviting guests into our home. So, what built the company, which I call the core competencies of the company. We were always on the exact same page where all of that was concerned.

"The biggest thing I did, was I wanted to change the face of the sport. I didn't want to do bikini contests and beer chugs and grease bowl pillow fighting contests. I wanted drag racing to realize its true potential. I wanted drag racing to take its rightful place among the stick and ball sports.

"We wanted to have a different type of clientele. We wanted mom, dad, and the kids. Things like, I stopped allowing people to bring alcohol through our spectator gates. I didn't want you bringing your wife and kids to an event and have the event ruined or have your experience ruined by some drunk in the stands who I couldn't monitor their alcohol consumption. That, to me, was an absolute,

"I was all about kind of moving drag racing forward and facility upgrades and improvements. I always felt that we should be comparing ourselves to stadiums, NFL stadiums, NBA arenas, Disney. That's what we should compare ourselves to, not other race tracks. So, we talk about the Bader family guarantee and a community code of conduct and creature comfort features, which dad advocated for immensely.

"We've spent almost $12 million in our facility, $11.8 million we had spent since November 1st, 2006."

And when he looks back on the day the Norwalk team began moving the clay, he's reminded that the commitment to excellence spawned by his Dad is what made it all possible.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

"Once we get through Night Under Fire, we're off on Sunday, so everybody will get a chance to at least grab a little bit of time off," Bader said. "Then we go into Pontiac; we can kind of exhale."