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Bill Bader Jr., son of legendary race promoter and former IHRA President Bill Bader, runs Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, home to an NHRA national event, a regional/divisional race, and as many major independent shows as any track in the country. Bader Jr. is as smooth as they come, all business, and a total pro – just like his dad. "Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals" rolls off his tongue faster than most people could say "Norwalk," his track workers aren't track workers – they're "team members" – and the May 18-20 Division 3 Lucas Oil Series event isn't a points meet, it's the B'laster Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser. The Pro Sportsman Association's Todd Veney spoke with Bader Jr., 44, to get his thoughts on what it takes to make a racetrack work, why he switched from IHRA to NHRA, and how he drew a turn-away crowd for a divisional race.
: How did you get 48,000 people to a divisional race?
Bill Bader Jr: By not looking at it as a divisional race. I looked at it as a national event. When we had our IHRA national events here, we didn't have John Force, Tony Schumacher or Larry Dixon. Our biggest star was probably Mark Thomas – an Alcohol Funny Car racer – and I applied the same formula that made our IHRA national event a success to our divisional race. I looked into the old Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars name, saw that the trademark had expired, and registered it. I own the name. We made the Alcohol Dragster drivers our Top Fuel stars, and our Alcohol Funny Cars became our fuel Funny Cars. Some alcohol racers feel like they're second-class citizens, and I had a meeting with them in 2008 and told them that we were going to pack this place for the divisional. I saw the looks on their faces, but I told them, "Trust me. It may not happen this year or next year, but it will happen." And in 2010, it did. We literally had to close the gates and turn people away.
: So you see your events as entertainment – not as simply races…
BBJ: Drag racing is entertainment. What's wrong with saying you're in the entertainment business? It's not like we're manipulating the outcome. We're entertaining people. We learned with our Night Under Fire event [where big-name nitro Funny Car racers, including Force himself, fill the stands for a one-day extravaganza] that you have to market each event differently. The fan who comes to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals is not necessarily the same person who comes to the Night Under Fire. People who go to an NHRA national event typically are hardcore fans from major metro markets. The Night of Fire fan is more likely to be from someplace rural. He doesn't know everything about every car, and it's probably the only race he's going to go to all year. He just wants a good show, and he's going to get one.