Bill Bader Jr. is a self-admitted workaholic.
To the president of Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, it’s just second nature at this point.
“We work, that’s what we do,” Bader said. “End of story.”
For that reason, Bader (Class of 1986) has found himself taking a moment to realize how special Saturday’s induction into the St. Paul High School Hall of Fame really is.
Simply put, the mainstay in the drag racing business hadn’t forced himself to pause for a few minutes and reflect.
“Truthfully, there are a lot of great people in this world who do their thing that go unrecognized,” Bader said. “On the surface, this is not something for me that was a huge deal — but it is a very big deal.
“When you actually take the time and get off the conveyer belt of life, it all becomes so humbling and very appreciative to me,” he added. “I love being a part of this community and I loved my time at St. Paul.”
Being inducted with Bader on Saturday will include the late Rev. Harvey Keller (distinguished), the late Charlie Roth, Mike Mushett (distinguished), Mike Gfell (athletic) and Jordan Centers-Mayer (athletic).
Inductees will be honored at halftime of tonight’s St. Paul football home game vs. Mapleton, with the induction ceremony slated for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. inside the social hall.
Bader Jr. began working at the dragstrip at the age of 10, shortly after his father, Bill Sr. bought and reopened the facility in 1974. And make no mistake, it was hard work at the corner of Ohio 18 and 601. Young Bader worked every type of job possible at the track.
“My father instilled a blue-collar work ethic, and we just do our thing,” Bader said. “I’ve always shied away from some of this stuff, because it has a tendency to prevent you from staying humble.”
“But I was a blue-collar kid that worked in the summer heat, and I wasn’t the product of a rich family or anything like that,” he added. “Believe me, I can recall a lot of times seeing friends drive by in their parents’ convertibles while I weeded in a ditch on Route 18.”
After high school graduation, Bader continued to work at the track, climbing the proverbial ladder. He eventually took courses through Ashland University and earned his degree in accounting and corporate finance.
Finally, in 1998, he took over the reigns as the president of then-Norwalk Raceway from his father. It took a decade, but Bader Jr. began to transition the raceway from an IHRA to an NHRA facility.
That transition culminated with the rebranding of the facility to Summit Motorsports Park in 2007, which in turn landed the track the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
With it came all the national television cameras and professional race teams — and an influx of people to the region, helping boost the local economy in the process.
Bader has often called the moment he stood with his dad at the starting line prior to the start of the Sunday elimination rounds in 2007 as his fondest — and proudest — day in 40-plus years in the business.
Over the years, Summit Motorsports Park has earned several Track of the Year awards within the industry. The Norwalk stop on the NHRA tour is often heralded as one of the best by both the race teams and out-of-town fans.
Among the staples include a pound of ice cream for $1, and the big fireworks show to close out the annual Night Under Fire races.
An integral part of the Norwalk community, Bader has also been involved in several community events, including the Light up Norwalk Christmas celebration. Bader often has Summit advertise the “Norwalk experience” with local attractions in highlighted.
“I’m proud to be part of Norwalk and the community,” Bader said. “The city has been great to me and my family and we’re very appreciative of what we’ve been able to do.
“I can’t imagine having a better relationship with the community, so this is a natural part of that,” he added.
At St. Paul, Bader said he learned even more about work ethic, and strengthened his Christianity.
“My guidance counselor was Mr. (Don) Klausing,” Bader said. “And not long ago he sent me a card. It read that I had worked hard and God has been good to me. The long and short of it is, he wanted me to know he was proud of me.”
“That sat on my desk for over a year,” he added. “He had also cut out and laminated a newspaper article in the card. Thirty-one years later, my high school guidance counselor took the time to tell me he’s proud of me. That says a lot about the people at St. Paul and their level of interest and commitment to their students.”
Bader remembers many different teachers who impacted him over the years.
“I suppose as I sit here rattling off all the names of my old teachers, maybe my time there impacted me more than I realized,” he said. “They focused on making good people.
“St. Paul was tough, but I have very fond memories of the people who went out of their way to invest quality of time in me,” Bader added.
COMING SATURDAY: Jordan Centers-Mayer is featured in the final part of this series.