Bader Jr. with John Force.  (Steve Embling photo)

: What's the best way to promote a drag race?

BBJ: First, you have to understand who your fan is. We have all kinds of events, but 10 or 12 are significant events with their own unique footprint in the market, and each one needs a different marketing strategy. It's my job to sell tickets. It's not NHRA's job – they're a sanctioning body. What we've always tried to do is sell the entire experience. You can't just do one-week radio buys on WMMS in Cleveland and WIOT in Toledo anymore. It's not the same world it was 30 years ago. It's not the same world it was in 2008, when everything turned upside down. People have scaled down their lifestyles in the last four years; they've learned to live within their means.

For the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, we're using 18 different marketing channels. We look at this place as a destination venue – like Disneyland. That's why we've laid claim to the July 4th weekend. Everyone in the United States is looking for something to do that weekend. Why do the same old mundane thing you've always done in the past just because that's what you've always done? Why go to the lake? Come to Norwalk, Ohio! The hardcore fans already know the race is that weekend – we want to get everybody else there. The commercial we're doing for that event doesn't look, taste, or feel like any drag racing TV ad ever. Nobody's screaming, nobody's crashing, and nobody's holding a Wally. It's designed to change human behavior.

Bader Jr. with NHRA president Tom Compton.  (Tom Schiltz photo)

: Whose idea was it to switch from IHRA to NHRA – yours or your dad's?

BBJ: Mine. Dad bought the track in 1974. He already ran Sandusky Speedway – he was a round-track racer – and the first drag race at his track was the first drag race he'd ever been to. He always hounded Bob Daniels, the old Division 3 Director, to get a national event. He just wanted one in the worst way, but Bob told him flat-out, "You'll never have an NHRA national event in Norwalk – we've already got Indy and Columbus," so he reached out to Ted Jones and Larry Carrier to get an IHRA race and tried to make that the best it could be. We'd have this place packed for Saturday nights, but on Sundays there'd be 3,000 people in the stands. It was heartbreaking.

When Dad stepped down from IHRA in 2004, I looked into the future, and our future was NHRA. I made a call to Tom Compton, and it started a two-year dialogue. Tom called Dad one day – I think it was more of a courtesy call than anything else – and told him that he'd already been talking with me for a couple of years about having an NHRA national event. Dad called me right up and said, "Are you crazy?" He was the president of IHRA and he had no idea that I'd been talking to Tom. That first year, 2007, when the first pair of Top Fuel cars fired up Sunday morning and the stands were full, we just looked at each other. That was a moment. It wasn't about how much money we were going to put in the bank, it was about a dream realized.

: Was the plan always for you to take over for him?

BBJ: Well, I've been working here since I was 10 years old. My parents were divorced, my father was a workaholic, I wanted to have a relationship with him, and by coming to work here I kind of met him on his terms. I started out picking up garbage, and I've installed guardrails, done minor electrical stuff, put up fences, worked on drainage, and just basically done every job there is. My degree is in accounting and corporate finance, but I'm more of a marketer than a bean counter. This is not a business you can run with a pencil.