Willard Rader

22/3/1890 - 0/2/1962

Record updated 22-Mar-07

American racing driver who drove relief at Indy for Howdy Wilcox in 1913 and Earl Cooper in 1914. He was test driver for the National Motor Car Company and for Cadillac in the 1920s.

Willard Rader
Sometimes reffered to as Bill Rader, in 1934, he drove the LaSalle Pace Car to lead the cars to the start of the Indy 500 race won by Wild Bill Cummings. He previously had been at the wheel of the first LaSalle 8 in 1927 and a Cadillac in 1931. Only ex-Indy 500 winners Jim Rathmann and Sam Hanks (six each), and Fisher have paced the race more often.

Rader's position in the racing world has been obscured in history. A search of the Web finds little mention of him except for hints that he was the first driver to turn a lap at 100 mph at the Speedway in 1916. However, Barney Oldfield, famous for driving with a cigar clenched in his teeth, is credited with this 100-mph feat, also in 1916.

According to a report in an Indianapolis newspaper, Oldfield made a bet of five hats on May 27, then went out in his Christie car and turned at lap of the Speedway in 1 minute, 27.70 seconds for a speed of 102.623 mph. His engine supposedly froze 200 yards from the finish, and his car coasted across the line.

Rader is briefly mentioned as having driven relief in the Indianapolis 500 in 1912-14 as well as being a test driver for the old National Motor Car company, which led to the job of lead test engineer for Cadillac in the 1920s.

Rader's grandson John Rader lives in Kalispell, Mont. He owns a gold watch on which is engraved: 'Presented to Willard Rader by the Packard Motor Company in appreciation of his lap record of 1:29.32, made with a Packard Twin Six Special car at Indianapolis Speedway, Aug. 6, 1916.'

Rader has background information that says his grandfather drove in relief of Howdy Wilcox in 1913 then in 1914 for Earl Cooper in a Stutz. A paragraph in the story says Bill Rader would have finished second had not the car blown a tire near the finish.

Rader then went to work for U.S. Rubber and tested tires at the Speedway by attempting to get them to fail at 85 mph. It was said that in the teens of the last century, Rader had driven more laps at the track than anyone.

John Rader steered research to Donald Morris Miller, who lives in the Indianapolis suburb of Greenwood. He is 88 years old and the nephew of Bill Rader. Miller's mother, Hilda, was Bill Rader's sister. Bill Rader, it turns out, was born March 22, 1890, in Indianapolis. His father was a downtown policeman. He would stay with the family on the city's south side whenever he was in town. 'He was a big man, 6-4, 250, strong as an ox,' Miller said as he displayed photos of his uncle in three different Pace Cars. 'The story was he got the job at National because no one but him could crank the car. He was very outgoing, wonderful temperament.'

Miller said Rader had three sons, Richard, Ralph and Robert, all deceased. There are six grandchildren. Miller displayed old newspaper clippings and magazine items that provided references to Rader. In the 1985 edition of Motor Trend Presents 100 Years of the Automobile, it notes that 'Driver Willard 'Big Boy' Rader and Frank 'Hungry' Farber, riding as a mechanic,' broke the Speedway track record with a 1:29.32. It said the former mark was 1:30.13 set by Georges Boillot in 1914. Another report said Rader used Silver Crown Cord tires on his car.

There is a newspaper photo of Rader, Farber and chief engineer J.G. Vincent smiling broadly. The headline reads: 'Men in Charge of Record Breaking 'Twelve' That Made Lap at Speedway Track in 1:29.32.' Rader later is credited with breaking all the records shorter than 10 miles in 1917 on the board track at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y. One problem, Miller noted, was that his uncle's name at times was spelled 'Raeder' in the press.

Bill Rader moved to Florida when he retired and passed away in the early 1960s.

Dick Mittman