Saturday July 28th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL
I was saddened today to hear news that Bob Metzler passed away. “Broadway Bob” was a real character in the truest sense of the word, and anyone who met him whether they liked him or not surely remembered him. I don’t personally know anyone who didn’t like him, but with a distinct and attention getting personality like he had I’m sure there were some who didn’t. I certainly did.
Broadway Bob was the owner of Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, WI. He was a master showman and an outstanding promoter, and if I’m not mistaken he is the only promoter inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Ocala, FL. That in itself is an impressive accomplishment.
Anyone growing up in Milwaukee or Chicago in the ‘70s and ‘80s will instantly remember the incessant radio and TV commercials with the hyperactive announcer screaming “Sunday, Sunday SUNDAY!!!” They were everywhere, and they must have worked because they kept on running.
Bob’s trademark gimmick was ‘The Olympics of Drag Racing’, a brilliant concept that I highly doubt could be done today without at least a cease and desist letter if not full on lawsuit. It had a ring to it and Bob would bring in the biggest names in drag racing like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney, “TV” Tommy Ivo, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and others.
I don’t know what it is about drag racers, but they lead the league along with mobsters as far as nicknames go. I don’t think there’s ever been even one member of either profession who doesn’t have a nickname in quotation marks that gets added every single time their name appears in print.
Tony “The Ant” Spilotro could have easily been the name of a funny car driver had his days in The Mafia not ended with a thud the way they did. I bet he wished he’d been behind the wheel of a big old dragster as he was getting a drum solo played on his coconut with a Louisville Slugger.
“Broadway Bob” could have easily been the name of a Gambino family hit man too, but he had enough to occupy his time with getting people to come see drag races every year. He put together extravaganzas, and I only found out recently he was never affiliated with the main governing arm of the drag racing business. He was a private entity, but paid to bring in big names for exhibition.
I’m not sure of his reputation with the drivers, and maybe he was known for being super cheap like most promoters of any entertainment genre are. I admired him for his promotional flair and entrepreneurial acumen. The guy knew how to brand himself and his business. He was a master.
Every time I saw him he would be wearing some wild getup that included a sweatshirt or t-shirt with “Broadway Bob” air brushed on the chest and some kind of wild pants with an outlandishly loud print. He would also usually have a pair of wild sunglasses to go with it, but that was him.
I met him years ago when I was a pro wrestling ring announcer, and he was very supportive of my comedy aspirations. He came out to some shows when I started in comedy and always made a point to say nice things. He was a one of a kind personality, and I’m always a big fan of those.