BOBBY BENNETT: THE GUARANTEE WAS THE DIFFERENCE
Having a guarantee with your name on it goes a long way to show what kind of person you are.
"As owner and operator of Summit Motorsports Park, we, the Bader Family, together with our team, promise to present to you, our guest, the best show possible at the best value possible! Should we fail you in any way while you are at our park, help us improve your experience by resolving your issue on the spot."
In a nutshell, that was the kind of person Bill Bader Sr. was.
I, along with the rest of the drag racing world, found out on Sunday afternoon a man many, including myself, dubbed as drag racing version of P.T. Barnum, had passed away following an accident on his property in Idaho.
Bader knew and understood customer service and, because of this, was headstrong to the point you either loved his commitment to excellence or cringed at his bullheadedness. He didn't endear himself to everyone. Regardless of which side of the fence you fell on, one thing was sure: you knew his heart.
Man, could he talk. He never met a stranger, and the man loved to talk. If you ever got on a quickie phone call, you were looking at 30 minutes minimum. But, the one thing out of those conversations was at least one nugget in life's lesson you could plug into a future situation.
The only thing Bader loved more than talking was kissing on the girls. And heck, I even got a kiss on the cheek too. He was just Bill being Bill.
I can remember when Bader first bought the IHRA and the frustration that came from time to time when the playbook for excellent track management didn't always jibe with the one associated with running a race series. Bader reminded me a lot of my dad, who could stretch a dollar from New York to California. Still, when I was a struggling journalist, he found a way to help me with expense money to keep me coming to the races.
When some wanted me fired, he kept me writing for the house organ Drag Review. I didn't take advantage of his protection and instead kept trying to get better. The bottom line is if Bader took an interest in you, he would not let others knock you down.
We did have our scuffles, and regardless of how intense, the sun never went down on the anger.
I can remember when I first launched CompetitionPlus.com in 1999, getting Bader to promote us was the equivalent of trying to drag a mule up a ladder. For three months, Bader said nary a word of the new venture.
On Christmas Eve, 1999, my phone rang, and the caller ID said, "Bill Bader." I answered the phone, and he was calling to wish me a Merry Christmas. The phone call was filled with praise and the kind of love you might get from that favorite Uncle.
In the end, I couldn't resist.
"Hey, Bader, why haven't you helped me at all in getting the word out about CompetitionPlus?" I asked.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone as if he had been expecting this.
"We have a deal with GoRacing.com, so I couldn't," Bader responded.
Without missing a beat, I responded, "Bader, don't you realize in another two months I am going to be bigger than them?"
Bader began laughing so hard I held the phone away from my ear and could hear him. Then he stopped to offer, "They are a media powerhouse. That's a lofty goal."
I responded, "Bader, remember this. Jaws was once a baby fish."
I guess it was two months later, in the midst of the Dot Com crash, that the site ceased doing business.
I immediately called Bader once the news broke, "You still laughing?"
We butted heads from time to time when I wrote things he didn't like. The arguments got pretty animated, and sometimes someone got hung up on. By the end of the day, as I said earlier, all was good in our worlds.
I remember writing something, and the subject got Bader up on the tires. He'd call every hour on the hour because he wanted to chew on me. I wasn't afraid. I just wasn't in the mood to fuss that day.
Finally, I answered and said, "What do you want to fuss at me about now?"
Then he started in, and I disagreed, but then I came back at him with a line he didn't expect.
"Bill, I promise to present to you, my reader, the best article possible at the best value possible! Should I fail you in any way while reading CompetitionPlus.com, I will do my best to resolve your issue. That's the BB guarantee."
The phone was silent for a little while; then, he erupted in laughter.
"I can't remember what I was mad about," Bader said.
I think back to those moments with laughter and now tears because I will never experience a relationship like that in my lifetime again.
Never will I ever get another email from Bill asking me to take down a story because he will catch crap about it and then having to respond and tell him, "Bill, that story is not on my site."
Bill retired, and from time to time, we stayed in touch. I missed seeing him at the races, but life took us in different directions. There was never a time when I couldn't call or fire off an email.
Now I can't, and that breaks my heart.
Thanks for the memories, old friend, and I can still see that smile he made that would light up a room when I would stress the old part. You made a difference in my life. I will never forget you or your guarantee of customer service excellence. I wasn't even a customer, and you stayed true to your word as a friend and to my satisfaction.