Story and photos by Mary Lendzion
As the president of Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, Bill Bader Jr. pulls out all of the stops in the name of putting on a show.
Fans have come to expect the unexpected when attending an event at the motorsports venue that he owns and operates with his equally-committed family and team members.
Fans don’t know whether they will simply be watching drag racing, or drag racing served with a side of pyrotechnics, flyovers, special guests or pranks. Forever etched in the minds of many is when a UFO crash-landed on the starting line at the crack of dawn during the Cometic Gasket Halloween Classic a few years ago. Bader Jr. had secretly ordered up the most boisterous boom possible to go with it. People were caught off-guard, police were called and team members were told to keep the show going should Bader Jr. be carted off to jail.
It's no secret that Bader Jr. lives to entertain, engross, surprise and shock fans, and in an effort to keep doing all of those things, he began to think outside of the box during the pandemic in 2020.
With a facility than spans over 300 acres, seats more than 30,000 fans and is surrounded by Musco lighting, he decided that the park could offer more than drag racing. Then, he began talking with Mike Ott, Director of Championship Pulling with MAC Trailer, and Mike Coney, President of MAC Trailer, about the possibility of presenting a truck- and tractor-pulling event, and with their support, Bader Jr. attended the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League banquet last fall in Louisville, Kentucky, and proudly announced that the Inaugural World Series of Pulling presented by Ohio Cat would be presented July 21-23, 2022 at Summit Motorsports Park.
While a few people were skeptical about the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League event, most people were supportive, including the pullers who would be coming from across the country to make history as the first pullers to compete at Summit Motorsports Park. Bader Jr., Summit Motorsports Park and the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League were committed to showing everyone that the event could be a success, and Summit Motorsports Park and the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League began to market it.
The week of the event, Bader Jr., as well as Track Manager Evan Bader, Facility Manager Jim Altomare and additional team members, stripped all of the glue from the track and washed it, in what can best be described as a long labor of love. They then worked closely with Randy Sraggins of Special-T-Tracks, an expert in moving dirt in and out for events like this one, Jim Miller, an expert in building dirt track surfaces, and other professionals and volunteers, to begin the transformation from a drag racing track to a pulling track.
A hundred truckloads of dirt were brought in, carefully placed, spread on the track surface and screened to remove any stones and lumps.
Rototillers and other equipment were used, and the track was perfect in time for the first hook of the event on Thursday, July 21. It was set up so that pullers, who were competing for championships and a share of $250,000, would start at the Summit Motorsports Park eighth-mile finish line, and head toward the Summit Motorsports Park starting line.
To see the first tractor making a pull, with weighted sled behind it, was exhilarating for fans, as it was history in the making at Summit Motorsports Park. It was also emotional for team members who played pivotal roles in making it all happen.
Just as interesting as each pull was the work that went into preparing the dirt track for the next pull, with professionals in heavy equipment working in unison to smooth and set the dirt.
“One of our goals was to give the competitors a great pulling surface, and another goal was to give the fans a great show, and we are confident that we achieved that,” said Bill Bader Jr., president of Summit Motorsports Park. “We had very positive feedback about the dirt track on Thursday and Friday, with pullers having substantial hooks, and fans were telling us that they were enjoying the show. We were very pleased about all of that.”
Unfortunately, heavy rainfall on Saturday, July 23, the last day of the event, compromised the dirt track, and it would have required extensive effort to get it competition-ready again, so Summit Motorsports Park and Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League made the difficult decision to cancel the last day of the event.
“We had a tremendous event on Thursday and Friday, with a lot of fans in the stands and walking around to see all of the trucks and tractors in the pit area, so having to cancel the final day of the event was hard on every single one of us,” said Bader Jr. “Even though it stopped raining and the sun came out later that day, the damage from the heavy rain was already done, and we would not have been able to repair the dirt track and proceed in a timely manner.”
Focused on how the good outweighed the bad, Bader Jr., along with Evan Bader, Jim Altomare, team members and volunteers began the process of removing the dirt from the track surface so that it could be taken away by trucks the day after the event. It was an around-the-clock effort. The track surface was washed repeatedly and thoroughly, and then dragged, glued and ready in time for the Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Blue Suede Cruise presented by Cometic Gasket, which was just six days later. There, cars of all horsepower levels hauled down track without any issues.
“I knew going into it that it would be monumental undertaking, and trust me, it was, but I wanted to take things to the next level and introduce something new at Summit Motorsports Park,” said Bader Jr. “We are in the entertainment business, and I think this event was indeed entertaining.”