Bill Rader, the long-time racing coordinator for the Polaris snowmobile race program, passed away Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 54. Rader played a major role in the resurgence of the Polaris snowmobile racing program over the past dozen years. He worked closely with Racing Director Tom Rager, Sr., a close friend of Rader’s for more than 20 years.
“He was extremely well-liked and everyone in the industry knows how instrumental he was in rebuilding this Polaris program,” Rager said of Rader. “His specialty was working with young talent, the father-son race teams, nurturing them to get them to the next level. He worked with people like [Pro racers] TJ Gulla and D.J. Eckstrom and helped them as they rose through the program.”
In the early 1990s, Rager was managing the Ski-Doo racing program and he hired Rader as his race program coordinator. Rader and his family – his survivors include his wife, Tammy and daughter, Dana – moved from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Wausau, Wisconsin, at that time for the job.
When Rager was hired as racing manager by Polaris in August 2000, he immediately hired Rader as racing coordinator. The two men led the rebuilding of the Polaris racing program. “Billy took care of the ‘B Team’ programs, assisted me with outside sponsorships and he dealt heavily with the ISR,” the racing sanctioning body, Rager said.
The two men developed an incredible friendship over the years. “They always say you meet one person in life who is truly your best friend, and for me he was truly my best friend,” Rager said.
A Great Sportsman
Scott Judnick, co-owner of the Judnick Motorsports snocross racing team, said Rader was a great influence on racers of all brands.
“I can remember when we were racing for Arctic Cat – this is our 10th year with Polaris – Bill would always come up and talk to you at the track, give you encouragement. He was a great sportsman. He worked with the Sport-class guys and he’d go trailer to trailer and make sure everybody had what they needed and give them input… Bill was a big part of our team and our success and the championships we’ve won over the years.”
Judnick said Rader contributed to the spirit and technology of racing. “He made it fun. He was always willing to help, whatever you needed, he was there for you,” Judnick said. “He came up with ideas, he would run for stuff – nothing was beneath him. He was a big part of the success of this program. On a lot of different test trips Bill would be there and his input was always fantastic. The guy would be talking to you and he was so smart, and you’d be like, ‘what did he say?’ He’s get into the chemistry end of things and he loved to study and read and figure things out.”
Rader was unable to attend races this year while battling cancer, and he was missed. “The snowmobile racing world was very concerned about Bill,” Judnick said. “Every single weekend people come up and ask, ‘how’s Bill doing?’ I can’t tell you how much we’ve missed not having him at the track, and now that he has passed, how much we will miss him going forward.”
Judnick said commemorative decals were being prepared for racers to put on their sleds in Rader’s honor.
From the other side of the fence, few fans knew Rader, but in the pits he was a soft-spoken legend.
A Vintage Mopar Enthusiast
Rader grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he loved racing snowmobiles and stock cars. He worked for a time in the mines and served as technical inspector for the USSA snowmobile racing circuit, where he was exemplary in his fairness and his concern for racer safety. He was operating an industrial supply company when Rager hired him to work with the Ski-Doo racing program.
Rader was focused on his family and his job, and he enjoyed restoring old vehicles. “He loved building old hot rods,” Rager said. “He rebuilt a ’70 Road Runner, and his latest project was a ’73 Dart. He loved the old Mopar stuff. He also did an incredible job refurbishing old Polaris snowmobiles, and his latest was an old StarFire sled.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church, 3200 N. Mountain Road, Wausau. Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Brainard Funeral Home, 5712 Memorial Court, Weston, WI, and again from 9:30 a.m. until the time of services Friday at the church.