For 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.
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.
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.