Ronney Householder: The Man Who Took Chrysler Racing to The Top

Back in the 1960’s Chrysler Corporation racecars dominated the racing scene. The Chrysler racing program would go on to unparalleled success with Chrysler-powered products winning national championships in five major stock car circuits and dominating the drag strips. In 1970 drivers for Plymouth and Dodge combined to win 77 percent of these races, winning 106 of 138 events. They won championships in NASCAR, USAC, ARCA and IMCA.

Did you ever wonder who was behind that amazing performance? A quite, unassuming former driver and engineer named F. Ronald “Ronney” Householder. It was said that the Plymouths and Dodges that ran so well on the stock car tracks were a testimony to the tutorage, guidance and ability of Ronney Householder.

Ronney Householder was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 5, 1908 and moved to Southern California in 1922. In California he would attend Glendale High School and the University of Southern California.

Householder as a midget driver.

In 1931, he began racing outboard motor boats in California but in 1933 switched to midgets. This was during the golden age of midget racing and Householder certainly won his share of races. From 1933 until his retirement in 1948, Householder was king of the hill on the tough midget circuit. In fact, he won the first race he ever drove, but would admit that it was a fluke. It was at Santa Ana, California and being a novice he started in the rear, on the first lap everybody piled up and Ronnie built up a two-lap lead before the others got started again and held on for the win.

From there Householder started to travel and at one time raced nearly the year around, spending the summer in the Midwest and the fall and winter on the West Coast. Know as a “money driver” who lost and occasional short race, he was invincible when there was a big purse and a longer distance race.

He won the 1934-35 midget indoor Mid West Championship, he also won the 1935 Detroit Coliseum Championship and the 1936 & 1937 Turkey Night 150 lap championships at the famous Gilmore Stadium, which drew crowds number over 18,000 fans. Householder not only drove, but also owned many of his rides, usually painted white. In 1939 the Chicago Shriners built a quarter-mile banked board track inside Soldier Field and drew large crowds. Householder won the Championship under the AAA sanction, which drew the top drivers in the country.

Ernie Derr and Chrysler dominated IMCA.

Householder drove in the Indianapolis 500 in 1937 and 1938 placing 12th and 14th. In 1938 he set a new qualifying record of 125.769, which still stands, as the qualifying distance at the time was 10 laps. In 1939, Householder won a championship race at the Chicago board track before 30,000 fans. His determination to win was shown in September 1940 during a 100 miler at the Toledo Speedway. He was leading with 30 miles to go when the carburetor came loose. Driving with one hand, he held the carburetor in place and won the race in 1 hour 12 minutes while driving with 1 hand.

In World War II he served as an Army ordnance officer and emerged as a lieutenant colonel.

After the war he was back in the racing business but due to his layoff, he was now a car owner-mechanic. He did have a brief stint as a driver when in May 1947 his driver Ralph Pratt was hurt and Householder got back in the car and would later state, “1947 was my best year as a driver.”

In 1948, he retired from racing and managed his own radio station. In 1955, he returned to the automobile world this time with the Plymouth Division of Chrysler Corporation where he helped develop the Plymouth Fury and also to monitor a stock car program.

In 1964, Householder took control of Chrysler Corporation’s stock car racing efforts. The rest as they say was history. Householder would lead Chrysler Corporation to some amazing successes in racing. Ronney was the man in charge of operations.

The one who talked with the Petty’s and their counterparts in other racing organizations to find out their experiences, the one who attended the little publicized meetings with various associations to try and make sure the rules didn’t hurt his employer. Householder was a strong-willed individual; he did things his way. At times he totally disregarded what Chrysler management wanted, because he knew he had better ideas and the results proved he was right.

Householder’s success can be contributed to a number of things. First, he was not only a former driver but an engineer designer and builder and he was very involved in the design and development of Chrysler race cars. He was completely in charge and did not manage from his office, he was a hands-on leader and despite having a great staff made all the major decisions. Nothing related to racing left Chrysler without the approval of Ronney Householder.

He had some great individuals working for him and one of his best decisions was to hire Ray Nichels away from Pontiac. Nichels had a proven record in NASCAR and his experience was invaluable. Householder attended all of the races he could and it wasn’t unusual for him to spend quite a lot of time in Nichel’s shops where the racecars were built.

Householder chomping on cigar.

In 1965 after the development of the Chrysler hemi and its success, NASCAR decided to outlaw it and say that only production engines could run in NASCAR. Householder challenged NASCAR on this saying “Why would fans come to see a race were cars go 150, when they know they could be going 175.” It was Householder who made the decision to remove Richard Petty, then the image of NASCAR from the 1965 NASCAR season. Petty spent the year drag racing hemis. By the middle of the year NASCAR had relented.

During this golden era of Chrysler racing, Richard Petty would win NASCAR Champions in 1964-67-71 in a Plymouth while Bobby Isaac won the 1970 NASCAR Championship in a Dodge. Chrysler products totally dominated the USAC Stock Car Series in this era with Norm Nelson winning the championship in 1965-66 in a Plymouth, Don White in a Dodge in 67, Roger McCluskey in a Plymouth in 69 & 70 and in 1071 Butch Hartman started his string of five straight championships in a Dodge.

In IMCA, Ernie Derr totally dominated the series in this era winning seven straight champions from 1965 thru 1971 behind the wheel of a Dodge. In ARCA, Iggy Katona would win championships in 66 and 67 in a Dodge and Ramo Stott added championships in ’70 and ’71 in a Plymouth.

Richard Petty in a Plymouth dominated NASCAR.

Householder would stay with Chrysler in various racing capacities and in 1971 when Chrysler withdrew from active participation in racing, he became assistant manager of vehicle performance planning. He was planning on retiring in 1973, but succumbed to cancer on November 11, 1972 in Detroit.

One thing is for sure about Ronney Householder, he was always leading the way. Householder has been inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame, the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame

So the next time you think back in time and think of the Petty’s winning in Chrysler products or a big hemi at the drag strip, remember that the man most responsible for those amazing accomplishments, was an unassuming gentlemen named Ronney Householder.

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Lee Ackerman

Lee has been Mopar Connection Magazine's resident "Mopar historian" bringing us some of the best, most insightful glimpses back in the world of competitive history. Whether it's dirt track, oval track or the high banks of NASCAR, if MCM has published it, Lee likely brought it to us.

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