Ozarks’ Area Racers Hall of Fame Spotlight: Sportscaster Reynolds was on the scene in Fairgrounds’ glory days

IMG_0507Ned Reynolds got his first taste of Ozarks’ stock-car racing in 1973, when his Hall of Fame sportscasting career was still in its relative infancy.

“Harry Lightfoot was running the Fairgrounds Speedway and he wanted to build up racing with the media,” Reynolds recalled. “It was a Sunday afternoon in April and it was so, blasted cold that I’ll never forget it.”

Reynolds, along with long-time Springfield Newspapers sports editor Marty Eddlemon and some other local media members were invited to an early season race at the Fairgrounds. Lightfoot had a buffet lunch prepared.

“That was a hooking point for me,” Reynolds said – the races, not the buffet lunch.

“Most of the races were on Friday nights and before that I never had an opportunity to get out there,” Reynolds said of a schedule that had him behind the sports anchor desk at KYTV, Channel 3 on weeknights. “After that, I knew I had to get out there and concentrate more on racing.”

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Ned Reynolds

Reynolds, one of iconic figures of Ozarks’ sports journalism, is among 10 members of the Hall of Fame class for the 30th annual Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Reunion on Saturday. The headliner at the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds E-Plex is NASCAR great Mark Martin.

Doors will open at 4 p.m. with an autograph session from 5:30-6:30. The ceremony will begin at 6:30 with a Salute to Champions from local tracks, followed by the Hall of Fame induction. Advance tickets are $15 at O’Reilly Auto Parts locations and $20 at the door.

Area speedways will have informational booths and there will be Ozarks-area racing memorabilia along with vintage and modern race cars on display. One of those cars will be a Mark Martin tribute car. A silent auction featuring various racing items also is scheduled.

Reynolds, a native of Haddonfield, N.J. just outside of Philadelphia, Pa., even wound up as the Fairgrounds’ track announcer for a couple of years in the mid-1970s – when racing at the Fairgrounds was the hottest ticket in town. A Friday-night gathering place, the races would attract several thousand fans each week to Springfield’s north side.

While he’s in multiple Halls of Fame for his sportscasting excellence after nearly five decades at KY3 – where he retired a couple of years ago but still appears on air occasionally – Reynolds said he’s proud to join the Ozarks Area Racing Foundation Hall of Fame. He appreciates the proud heritage of racing in the Ozarks and is glad to have been a part of it.

One of Reynolds’ most memorable projects was KYTV’s “Sunday Speedway” program that ran weekly in 1977-78. Reynolds served as host in the hour-long program that reviewed that week’s races with highlights, commentary and interviews.

That was when Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace were up-and-coming teen stars, cutting their racing teeth against legendary local hero Larry Phillips among others.

“We taped those shows and put them together on Saturdays,” Reynolds said. “Unfortunately, those tapes don’t exist any more. It was a fun to do. We had a good time putting that show together.

“Larry Phillips was the star of the show,” Reynolds said. “When he didn’t win it was because he wasn’t there.”

Reynolds continues to do part-time television work in retirement and regularly hosts the “Sports Reporters” radio show on 98.7 FM five days a week. He also serves as a play-by-play announcer for selected Missouri State and basketball games and Springfield Cardinals baseball games.

He enters the Hall in the “Pioneer” division for those contributing off the track. Other Pioneer inductees are Forrest Lucas, Ronnie Williams, Bill Davis and the late Julian Martin.

“Legend” division honorees for those excelling behind the wheel are Mark Martin, Terry Bivins, Rick Sharp, Robbie Johnson and the late Rayme Johnson.

Ozarks Area Racers Hall of Fame spotlight: Ronnie Williams’ voice an Ozarks’ tradition

IMG_0507For more than three decades, Ronnie Williams has asked Ozarks racing fans one question.

His decibel level rising by the word, Williams has kicked off hundreds of racing programs at several different speedways by asking: “Are … you … readyyyyy … to … go. … RACIN!!!!????”

Williams, a lifelong resident of Lebanon, is one of the most-recognizable voices in Ozarks racing. He’s best known as the voice of Lebanon I-44 Speedway but has called the action at several area ovals.

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Ronnie Williams has been calling Ozarks-area stock-car races for three decades.

Energy and enthusiasm is never lacking for Williams, who brings a passion to his job.

“Every race, you have to enjoy it. Otherwise, you might as well stay at home,” Williams said of race-calling style. “If I’m having fun, hopefully the crowd is having fun, too.”

Williams is among  10 inductees into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame. Ceremonies for the 30th annual Reunion and Hall event are Saturday at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds E-Plex in Springfield.

Doors will open at 4 p.m. with an autograph session from 5:30-6:30. The ceremony will begin at 6:30 with a Salute to Champions from local tracks, followed by the Hall of Fame induction. Advance tickets are $15 at O’Reilly Auto Parts locations and $20 at the door.

Area speedways will have informational booths and there will be Ozarks-area racing memorabilia along with vintage and modern race cars on display. One of those cars will be a Mark Martin tribute car. A silent auction featuring various racing items also is scheduled.

Williams is among five inductees in the “Pioneer” Division, for their contributions to the Ozarks’ racing scene in ways other than driving. Others are Ned Reynolds, Bill Davis, Forrest Lucas and the late Julian Martin.

Inductees in the “Legend” division for driving are NASCAR great Mark Martin, Terry Bivins, Rick Sharp, Robbie Johnson and the late Rayme Johnson.

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Ronnie Williams is the voice of Lebanon I-44 Speedway. Here he visits with fellow Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Famer Dale Roper after a race a few years ago.

This year’s induction class will bring the total in the Hall to 187. Names of the Hall of Famers are engraved on a black, granite monument permanently on display on the West side of the Fairgrounds on what once was the entrance to the old pit road.

Williams called his first stock-car race at age 13, at the old Bolivar Speedway where he attended races with his mother and step-father. So smitten with the action, Williams wrote to track promoter Neville Neal to tell him how much he enjoyed the races.

Ironically, a speedway regular racer was named Ronnie Williams, from Berryville, Ark. One night, while at the concession stand, young Ronnie heard the announcer page Ronnie Williams to the announcer’s booth. He figured it was for the other Williams – until he was paged as “Ronnie Williams from Lebanon, Missouri.”

“Dan Hutton, the announcer, read my letter over the P.A. and asked if I would announce a race. So I announced the mini-stock race,” Williams recalled.

That was it until about a decade later. Williams was a regular spectator at I-44 Speedway in his hometown, when Bill Willard opened the facility in 1983. Late that season, the announcer quit and Willard had a difficult time finding a replacement.

Williams got a chance and called the final two weeks of racing. In 1984, he was offered the job full time and, all except for two years while working nights, he’s been behind the mic at I-44 among other speedways.

Since about 1993, he’s called races from the infield. That began when he was asked to help line up cars under cautions. He liked the vantage point so much, he’s stay there ever since.

While developing his own style from an early age, Williams said his announcing influences were long-time Cardinals’ play-by-play man Jack Buck, Hutton and former ASA announcer Gary Poindexter.

“I thought it was pretty neat to get a small check to do something that I loved,” Williams said of his beginnings at I-44 in 1983. “I’ve made a lot of great friends and acquaintances. I’ve been blessed.

“To go into the Hall of Fame is humbling and it makes me proud – especially to go in with the group that I’m going in with.”

Tickets for the Racers Reunion remain on sale at area O’Reilly Auto Parts stores at $15 in advance, online through Everbrite or can be purchased from Ozarks Area Racers Foundation members. Admission is $20 at the door the day of the event.