Photo courtesy ISC Images & Archives

Catching up with racing’s ‘Hat Man’: The incomparable legacy of Bill Brodrick


It would not be a stretch to say Bill Brodrick has been in victory lane more than any other person in history. And yet he never competed in, nor won, even one race.

At hundreds of races from 1969-97 – primarily NASCAR Cup and IndyCar events – Brodrick was an imposing figure in victory lane, standing alongside the likes of numerous future NASCAR Hall of Famers such as Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty and David Pearson after they won races.

It was hard to miss him. He stood 6-foot-3 and had a wrestler’s body, along with flaming and flowing long red hair and a Grizzly Adams-like beard.

He was known as “Red,” “the Victory Lane Ringmaster,” “Big Bill” or simply “Bill.” But what was really his calling card, and the nickname that made him famous, was “the Hat Man.”

He was the ringmaster of victory lane. He ran the postrace celebration like a business, deciding who’d greet the winner first and the subsequent pecking order, so to speak. He’d direct the race queens who typically kissed the winner and when. He also directed photographers where to set up and when to shoot. He arranged how TV would cover the celebration and made sure the networks had the best camera angles and the first interviews.

NASCAR car owner Banjo Matthews (left) talks with UNOCAL publicist Bill Brodrick at a NASCAR event in 1980. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives)

But Brodrick’s biggest claim to fame was how, in almost military-like precision, he got the driver and crew members of the winning team to change hats nearly every 30 seconds or so to allow photographers to take shots for different sponsors.

If Dale Earnhardt won, Brodrick passed out GM Goodwrench hats, Union 76 hats and many more to accommodate almost every sponsor on the winning car. If Richard Petty won, Brodrick passed out STP hats, Union 76 hats, and so forth until every sponsor was represented in victory lane photos. It’s where the famous “hat dance” got its name, courtesy of Brodrick.

“I’m tall, am a big guy, and I had long hair and I had a beard,” he said. “That persona is what stuck in people’s minds. When I realized that, I wasn’t about to get rid of my beard and long hair. I still have it. I haven’t changed much, except for a few more lines in my forehead. People still come up to me and say, ‘Hi, Hat Man, how are you doing?’ That persona is what made me what I was to the fans and viewers.

“Being The Hat Man was my trademark. In fact, I had ‘The Hat Man’ trademarked for a number of years so nobody could come along and steal ‘The Hat Man’ name away from me.

“Television is what made people recognize me. I never expected it. It just happened. I was there and for what I was doing, I’d be on camera, and people would recognize me and see me with the drivers.”

Photo: Bill Brodrick

A former sportswriter and radio host in his native Cincinnati, Brodrick went to work on Jan. 1, 1969 for Union Oil in California (also known as UNOCAL) as PR director for its worldwide racing division. Four days later, he was in Daytona for timing tests, and with that began the legacy of “The Hat Man.”

Since Union Oil’s Union 76 was the official fuel for NASCAR, IndyCar and other series during much of his tenure, Brodrick was a man in constant motion, going from Daytona to Indianapolis to Le Mans and more. He often spent 200 days on the road in any given year.

These days, Brodrick, 79, lives in retirement in Algonquin, Illinois. Due to medical issues, he doesn’t travel much anymore, but he still keeps up with racing and fondly recalls the good old days with an excitement that seems as if they almost happened just yesterday.

Brodrick was friends with everyone back in the day. He used to hang out with David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Al Unser (Sr. and Jr.), A.J. Foyt and countless others during some of their most successful years in racing.

Even though he’s been gone from racetracks for 20 years, he hasn’t been forgotten. He still gets several letters and trading cards to autograph from fans.

Brodrick still gets trading cards he was featured on from fans seeking his autograph, even this one, which had his last name misspelled.

And yes, he’s still recognized as “The Hat Man.”

“It doesn’t happen like it used to, where everywhere you’d go, especially at race time, in airports and all that kind of stuff, but it still happens,” he said. “I’m flattered for what I get.”

Not surprisingly, Brodrick has a ton of stories to tell. He’s thought about writing a book, but “I’d have to change all the names to protect the guilty,” he says with a laugh.

“I’ve done so much in my career that has enabled me to travel the world and participate in all kinds of events,” Brodrick said. “I ran in the Cannonball Run, was in the Great American Race, we sponsored some vehicles. I helped out for 20 years at the Super Bowl, too.”

Here’s a few of Brodrick’s other favorite stories:

“The drivers were all my favorites,” he said. “David Pearson and I got along well and were good friends. Dan Gurney was one of my favorites as both a driver and a car owner, a real gentleman and great to work with.

“I also got along real well with Bobby Allison. Bobby would like to drown me with champagne. Whenever Bobby would win a race, I knew I was in trouble. We’d go to Mass on Sunday morning before we’d go to the racetrack – we are both Catholic – and he’d say to me, ‘I’m going to get you today, Brodrick.’ And I’d tell him, ‘I hope so, Bobby.’”

Brodrick had a special relationship with both Petty and Earnhardt.

“They were super guys and total opposites in victory lane,” Brodrick said. “Richard was the

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison “gets” Bill Brodrick with champagne after a win. (Photo: Charlie Morgan)

quintessential pro.

“Whenever Richard won, I’d have a cup of milk ready for him. He wanted a cup of milk because Richard had a bad stomach. He only has half a stomach; he had the other half removed at one time. I’d have a cup of milk for him, and he’d also want a couple aspirins until he got the Goody’s sponsorship, and then I’d have to have a couple of Goody’s for him and he’d drink his milk (before he met the press).

“Then he’d say, ‘Okay, Bill, let’s let them cats get their pictures.’ He’d go over and give them what they want. He was great to work with.

“Probably the best time I had with Richard was his 200th win at Daytona in July 1984 when President Reagan was there. That was such a memorable day.

“And then there was Ernie Irvan’s win at Loudon in 1996 after he was seriously injured in a crash. There was Alan Kulwicki’s first win at Phoenix in 1988. There was also Darrell Waltrip when he won Daytona in 1989 and did his funky little dance, what’d they call it, ‘the Icky Shuffle?’ There just were so many good memories and stories over the years.”

But Earnhardt, well, he was kind of a different story.

Brodrick was in victory lane for most of Dale Earnhardt’s wins. Photo: Getty Images

“He always wanted to do everything his way,” Brodrick recalled. “I’d ask him to do something and he’d say, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ But actually, he was pulling my chain. The first thing he’d always say to me is, ‘Brodrick, where’s the champagne?’ I told him he’d get the champagne when we were done because he’d love to spray the photographers and people in victory lane. If there was a race where I didn’t have any when he won, he was not a happy camper. That was Dale’s big deal in victory lane.

“If there wasn’t any champagne, he was just his ornery, contrary self. He could be gruff and rough, but he’d give me that wink and smile, and you knew he was just being hard with you.”

And then there was Pearson.

“I used to fly down to Spartanburg (South Carolina, where Pearson lived), I’d meet David and then we’d drive together to Darlington,” Brodrick said. “There’s a restaurant at the Darlington Raceway that’s called the ‘Speedway Grill.’ They had and I heard still have the greatest hamburger steak and French fries in the world.

“One day, we were going to a race, and we were running late, we had to be there by noon, and I told him there’s no way he was going to make it on time. This was back when the speed limit was 55 mph. There’s a town near the track about 20 miles from Darlington where a four-lane highway begins. There’s a state highway patrol office there, so we were passing that office when a highway patrolman pulled out in front of us and proceeded to go exactly 55 mph heading to Darlington.

“Pearson was going crazy behind the wheel because he knows he can’t pass the cop. We had a bet who was going to pay for lunch. Pearson was very frugal with his money. He could make a buffalo scream off a nickel. The cop was also going to Darlington. Of course, I won, we didn’t get there by noon and Pearson had to buy lunch and boy, was he ticked. That’s one of my favorite stories of my career.”

But even with enough stories to last another lifetime, one thing stands out above all in Brodrick’s mind.

“What I miss the most is the camaraderie and fellowship we had in the old days when I was working,” he said. “I thank God every day that I was able to spend time when the sport (NASCAR) was in its heyday. We were very fortunate to be doing what we were doing when we were doing it. That’s what I liked.”

Brodrick was six weeks shy of 30 years with Union Oil when the company was sold, putting him into a forced retirement earlier than he would have liked.

Just like that, the racing, the travel, the thousands of drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, sanctioning body officials and even fans he came to know was gone – as was his “Hat Man” alter ego.

Bill Brodrick today (Photo courtesy Bill Brodrick)

The abrupt end took Brodrick by surprise, but he tried to make the best of it. He decided to open a bar in Algonquin called “Tavern At The Bridge,” because it was located on the Fox River.

The bar became a repository of all kinds of racing memorabilia, mostly from Brodrick’s collection of items he gained during his career. It also attracted thousands of race fans who wanted to see the “Hat Man” behind the bar.

“I put 40 years of racing experience to good use, and I bought a tavern,” he laughs. “I kept it for 11 years and I’ve never worked so hard in all my life.

“My whole life was in racing and motorsports, and I got paid to do my hobby. Then I went to work and worked almost 24 hours a day. I found out what it was to own a business and be responsible for people.

“The economy turned bad in 2008, and I turned it over to my son and was finally able to get out of the business. It was a lot of fun and we met a lot of people, but boy, that was work after all the years of going to races.”

Brodrick still keeps up with racing, particularly NASCAR, IndyCar and sports car racing, even though his health issues – primarily arthritis in his back – prevent him from even going to nearby tracks such as Chicagoland Speedway or Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Still, a day doesn’t go by that Brodrick isn’t reminded of all the things he’s experienced.

“For almost 30 years, I had the greatest job in the world,” he said. “I met so many great people, was at so many great races, saw so much racing history in the making.”

And right there in the middle was the one and only ‘Hat Man.’”

Bill welcomes emails from fans and past motorsports acquaintances. His address is: Also, click here for his website.Follow @JerryBonkowski

Results, Xfinity point standings after Auto Club Speedway

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Joey Logano led 139 of 150 laps to win the Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway. It is his 29th Xfinity win.

The Team Penske driver beat Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric.

Team Penske has won the last two Xfinity races.

Click here for results

Point Standings

With a top-10 finish in all five races so far, Elliott Sadler retains a four-point lead over teammate Tyler Reddick.

The top five is completed by Justin Allgaier (-5), Christopher Bell (-27) and Daniel Hemric (-30).

Click here for the full standings.

Joey Logano wins Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway

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Joey Logano led all but 11 laps on his way to winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

The Team Penske driver led the final eight laps to secure the victory in the Roseanne 300, the team’s first at the 2-mile track in the series.

Logano beat Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric.

“Total team effort there,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “Great pit stops, great car, oh my gosh. It’s one of those races that you feel relieved when you win. … Man, you’re supposed to win when you have a car that fast.”

Logano led 139 of 150 laps. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 5. He didn’t relinquish it until he was the only leader to pit on Lap 122 during a debris caution.

He restarted 16th and was back in the lead within four laps.

Logano was the only one to pit because on the previous caution he was the only leader who stayed out. He managed to retain the lead.

“I did not opt to do that, (crew chief) Brian (Wilson) opted to do that,” Logano said. “It ended up working out. I thought we were going to lose more track position than we did. … Just shows how fast our car was.”

It’s the second consecutive win for Team Penske after Brad Keselowski won last week at ISM Raceway.

The win, Logano’s 29th, is his first in the Xfinity Series since the March 2017 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano

STAGE 2 WINNER: Joey Logano

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Austin Dillon finished fourth after starting 19th … Daniel Hemric finished fifth for his best finish of the season … Ross Chastain finished 10th for his ninth top 10 and just his third on a non-restrictor plate track.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Matt Mills brought out the first caution on Lap 33 after getting into the Turn 2 wall … John Hunter Nemechek lost his right front tire on Lap 70. It caused significant damage to his No. 42 Chevrolet. He finished 29th … Pole-sitter Christopher Bell spun on Lap 97 into the frontstretch grass … On Lap 104, Bell was involved in a crash with Michael Annett on the frontstretch when Annett came up the track and forced him into the wall. Bell finished 21st … After starting in the top 12, Kaz Grala wrecked coming to the checkered flag while racing with Ryan Truex and Brandon Jones. He finished 14th.

NOTABLE: Team Penske is now winless at three active tracks in the Xfinity Series … Joey Logano joins Jack Ingram as the second driver to finish in the top seven in his first 10 starts at a track (Ingram did it at three different tracks).

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota had one unsecured lug nut.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When you have a car that’s that strong and a driver that’s this good, sometimes he has to dig you out of some holes.” – Brian Wilson, crew chief for Joey Logano.

WHAT’S NEXT: My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET on April 7 on Fox


Kyle Busch tops final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Kyle Busch was fastest in the final Cup practice for Sunday’s race at Auto Cub Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a top speed of 185.668 mph.

Busch was followed by the pole-sitter for race, Martin Truex Jr. (185.319).

“We feel OK about it, obviously I’d like to feel a titch better,” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “We kind of slowed up a little bit as the practice went along. I know everybody did but it felt like a couple of guys got closer to us as it went along. We were really good firing off there.”

The top five was completed by Jimmie Johnson (184.525), Kevin Harvick (184.308) and Brad Keselowski (184.280).

Harvick, fastest in the first two practice sessions for the Auto Club 400, will seek his fourth consecutive Cup win tomorrow. He had the best 10-lap average at 180.161 mph.

Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 45.

There were no accidents in the session. Kyle Larson did cut a tire, but his No. 42 Chevrolet was not damaged.

Click here for the final practice report.

Christopher Bell wins pole for Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway

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Christopher Bell qualified first for this afternoon’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

Bell claimed the pole for the Roseanne 300 with a speed of 181.059 mph to earn his third pole of the year.

Joey Logano qualified second with a speed of 180.923 mph. He has started on the front row in five of 10 Xfinity starts at Auto Club Speedway.

Bell’s pole joins the ones he earned at Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Qualifying is about speed and this No. 20 team has had speed,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “Every time we unload at a race track we have really fast Camrys and this week is no exception. … We we unloaded yesterday we were really good, really happy. I was just a little bit loose. Anytime we tightened it up and got it more comfortable for me to drive we slowed down.”

The top five is completed by John Hunter Nemechek (180.923), Cole Custer (179.933) and Daniel Hemric (179.879).

Rookie Kaz Grala qualified 12th for his career-best starting spot through five starts.

Grala’s teammate, Dylan Luptonwrecked in Turn 1 during his qualifying run in Round 1 and will start the race in a backup car.

Click here for qualifying results.