Archive for May 18, 2010

By: Wm. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune – Chicago Sun-Times Media — May 18, 2010

Ronney Householder - Region Racer 2F. “Ronny” Householder was born in Omaha, Nebraska, began his racing career in southern California and eventually adopted the Calumet Region as his racing home.

During the 1930s and 40s, Householder was one of the most successful drivers and race team owners in America. By the 1960s he had become one of the most powerful automotive corporate executives in all of American auto racing.

Although Ronny began his midget car racing career in southern California, his first victory of record came at the 124th Field Artillery Armory located at 52nd Street & Cottage Grove in Chicago on February 24, 1935. His midget racing career amassed a total of 189 race wins, with the final victory being captured in August 1949 at a track near Crawfordsville, Indiana. Householder won at least one race every year that he competed from 1935 through 1941 and following World War II, from 1947 through retirement.

He raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1937 and 1938 garnering 12th and 14th place finishes respectively. In 1938, he posted the fastest qualifying speed for the race. In his last attempt at Indy, his car flipped during practice, landing in a creek, almost drowning him. Householder retired from Indianapolis 500 competition on the spot.

It was during his time racing midget cars in the late 1930s that Ronny struck up what would eventually become a lifelong friendship with Rudy Nichels. Householder would also become the best of friends with Rudy’s son, Ray. In a matter of no time Householder’s race team became a fixture at Nichels Service, located on the northwest corner of Cline and Ridge Road in Highland. Ronny began anchoring all of his Midwest racing efforts (and equipment) out of the Nichels shop.

Rudy Nichels Shop

Rudy Nichels shop at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana in 1947. Working on the two Nichels owned midgets in the front of the garage is 24-year-old Ray Nichels. In the back on the right in the white tee shirt is Ronney Householder, who at the time was one of the most respected drivers in racing. He went on to manage Chrysler Corporation’s racing operations from 1955 thru 1972 – Nichels Engineering Archives

Householder’s fondness for the Region also blossomed into a love affair with a young lady from Highland by the name of Margaret “Maggie” Phillips, whom he eventually married.

Because of his engineering background from the University of Southern California, Householder was well versed into adapting the type of technological changes that seemed to evolve under race conditions. He was the first race team owner to align himself with an engine manufacturer, guaranteeing himself to have new engines and engine designs before they were available to the public. He also made it a point to construct new racing equipment at the start of every season with his own engineering design changes from observations he had made from the prior year’s racing.

When World War II broke out Householder was soon stationed overseas where his management skills soon became evident to his superiors as he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war, while balancing a reduced racing schedule, he found himself in another evolving technological business, radio. Before long he had acquired several radio stations and traveled the Midwest managing them.

Ronny couldn’t stay away from the automotive business for long though, and joined Chrysler Corporation in 1955. Householder also continued to maintain a relationship with auto racing, as a sanctioning official for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the United States Auto Club.

nichshop

The Nichels Engineering operation near the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana – Nichels Engineering Archives

In 1962, when Chrysler decided to reenter the American auto racing landscape, it was Householder who got the job to engineer a plan of action. In 1963, he enlisted Highland friend, Ray Nichels, who had just completed a six year relationship with Pontiac in which the GM division, won a series of national championships in NASCAR, USAC, IMCA and ARCA to join the Chrysler racing effort.

918From 1964 thru 1971, Chrysler became one of the cornerstones of American stock car racing. New powerplant and body designs, such the Hemi engine and Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird winged cars, were the result of Householders cutting edge vision and no-holes barred management style. From 1964 thru the end of 1970, Householder’s partner in this successful venture was the then Griffith-based, Nichels Engineering. Weekly trips in and out of the Griffith airport allowed Ronny to stay close to his adopted racing home, the Calumet Region.

Ronny Householder passed away at the age of 64 on November 11, 1972.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 18, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With track time already at a premium, race teams took a blow to their plans for six hours of practice time on Monday. Rain blanketed the Speedway for much of the day with track activities finally cancelled at 2:30 pm.

The only positive for race teams to be found in today’s rainout is it helped preserve tires (they’re only allotted 33 sets for the month.) But if the drivers had their choice in the matter, they’d be on the track. Such was the case during my time talking with driver Townsend Bell

In a sit-down interview with the 2009 Indianapolis 500 fourth-place finisher, I had a chance to talk to one driver, who in old school fashion has positioned himself with his best opportunity to date to win the 500.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year and having championship caliber organizations like Sam Schmidt’s and Chip Ganassi’s to work with is a great opportunity. I feel confident that I could be ready to run the race if it were held tomorrow.”

Townsend is a throw-back to Indy 500 days past. A married father of two he is now content with being a one-off driver who now spends each year focused on a plan to run in the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500. A former Indy Lights Champion, Bell has a long résumé that includes running in the FIA F3000, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series as well as a test driver in Formula 1 for BAR Honda and Jaguar.

Driving for quality teams, Townsend has already driven in the 500 three times. His record has included runs with Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold and last year with KV Racing. He’s clearly proven that with good equipment he can run with the leaders.

This year Bell has aligned himself with a partnership between Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He has the benefit of the Schmidt’s Indy Lights Championship organization and Ganassi’s crack engineering staff.

In his shakedown run yesterday, Bell showed he’s already up to speed clocking in at 12th on the speed charts at 223.472 mph in the No. 99 Herbalife Ganassi/Schmidt Racing Honda/Dallara. Although a patient man by nature, Townsend is through with waiting. He’s ready to go now.

Unfortunately the extended forecast for the Indianapolis area isn’t promising, calling for a 40 percent chance of rain every day this week. Practice continues for the entire Indy 500 entry list at 12 noon Tuesday, weather permitting.