Randerson was part of the success for many drivers
By Dave Magnus
Mike Randerson witnessed a race between a ’37 Mercury Modified Stock Car and a brand new ’52 Buick Roadmaster on the highway that ran right in front of the family farm when he was 10 years old. The Modified outran the Buick “big-time” and that memory ignited a love for race cars in Randerson that extends to this day.
He had a natural mechanical intuition since his father was a co-owner of a construction company. Following the tragic death of Randerson’s father, who was killed in an industrial accident when Mike was just 12 years old, Randerson tinkered with anything that had wheels on it. He even created a go-kart, powered by a Mercury outboard engine.
After a two year automotive technology course at Fox Valley Technical College, he purchased his first race car, a ’49 Oldsmobile.
He raced during the 1960 season with little success.
A rule requiring a signed consent was needed for the 1961 season if the driver was under age 21. Randerson’s mother had seen him race only once and she told him after that she would never sign for him to drive again. He went ahead and built a fresh ’49 Olds for the next season, figuring he could convince her to sign for him to compete. She didn’t sign the required paperwork.
Later that season Clyde Schumacher guest drove the car at De Pere and finished second in the feature and then raced the car at Oshkosh and won his heat and the feature.
In his final year of school Randerson was required to rebuild several engines, and he built one for Jerry Smith. Smith won his first feature with the engine, a ’37 Dodge flat head six.
Randerson finished school and in June of 1963 and married Phyllis.
In the fall of 1964 Smith and Randerson built a ’55 Chevrolet for the 1965 season. The car was successful, so a ’57 Chevy was built for the 1966 season. The car worked great on asphalt tracks and the pair decided to build a ’57 Chevy for asphalt tracks and a ’57 Buick for dirt tracks — primarily Oshkosh and the new half-mile dirt track at Kaukauna — for the 1967 season. They raced five nights a week, two on dirt and three on asphalt, and won many races.
Both cars were sold at the end of the year.
The 1968 season began with the paving of the Kaukauna track and Randerson gaining sponsorship from his employer U.S. Oil to race a ’61 Ford with a 390 engine. The track followed USAC rules so the car was built to comply with those. Smith drove the car but did not win a feature that year. However, the car was very competitive with the smaller engine.
The pair received sponsorship for the 1969 season, again from U.S. Oil and they purchased a ’67 Plymouth from USAC racer Norm Nelson to run the USAC schedule. Smith drove the car in the first race of the year at Queen City Speedway in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he qualified 10th and actually should have won the race, but a scoring error gave the win to Don White. Randerson and Smith did not have enough money to protest the outcome so they settled for second place money.
Randerson did not race during the 1970 season and built a new home in 1971 again curtailing racing for that year. In time for the 1972 season he put together a ’68 Chevelle and sold it to Roger Paul.
Randerson continued to devote time to his new home, but Paul called to ask him to take over the race preparation on the car after he suffered numerous engine woes. A 427 Chevy engine was purchased from Lynn Blanchard of Blanchard’s Speed Shop in Medina. The combination clicked and the team won 10 feature races from mid-July to season’s end.
From this point on the beginning of one of the most renowned chassis companies in the nation was born, but not without some huge struggles. Randerson built a ’70 Camaro with a fabricated frame and a Holman-Moody front clip for asphalt for the 1973 season. He also shortened the Paul Chevelle and made it a Nova.
Paul won many races that year and the local championship on dirt.
The Camaro was driven by Smith, with an engine supplied by Blanchard’s. Having little success on the tar they switched the car to dirt, but later parked it with the season not complete. With only bills to show for the 1973 season and the untimely death of his older brother George, who at age 38 left a wife and seven children ages two to 16, Randerson stepped away from racing.
After some time away, Randerson began to work on the Camaro and was contacted by Roger Regeth, who was looking for a better ride for the 1974 season. He came up with a car owner who bought the car from Randerson and paid the bills necessary to retool it for the season. He also arranged an engine deal with Blanchard and acquired a tire sponsorship from Les Stumpf Ford.
Regeth set fast time the first time out with the car and won 16 features by the end of the season. Were it not for Regeth, Randerson’s racing career may very well have been over.
A new car was built for the 1975 season and a “clean sweep” was scored at the first race of the year at De Pere. That car won 26 features and some specials en route to the Northeastern Wisconsin championship for the team of Regeth, Randerson and Blanchard.
Dennis Frings approached Randerson and Regeth with a new frame design that he wanted the team to use for the 1976 season. For the last race of 1975 the team took the car to the “World 100” where Regeth qualified sixth and finished 10th in the race, won by a small block Chevrolet powered car. Randerson knew this new design, coupled with a small block motor, would be the hot ticket for 1976.
Randerson finished the Frings car with a more aero friendly ’70 Camaro body style.
At the start of the year the car was fast, but suffered cylinder head cracking problems, so an engine was supplied by Carl Wegner of Markesan. This car began the small block revolution on Wisconsin short tracks and Regeth won 29 features on dirt and asphalt, as well as the Northeastern Wisconsin championship.
Feeling there was a need in the area for an affordable, store bought chassis, Randerson became a Howe chassis dealer. He built a new shop and began a business called Rander-Car Racing, while still holding a fulltime job at U.S. Oil. The business was named in tribute to his brother George who spent many nights with Mike in the garage in years past, calling all the cars they built “Rander-Cars.” Space in the shop was provided for Regeth and his long-time helper Geno Weber for their team for the1977 season.
From 1977 to 1980 Rander-Car chassis continued to grow, and in 1980 Mike resigned his position at U. S. Oil. The business soared once the word got out that they were a fulltime operation. Randerson employed four fulltime employees and became the largest Howe chassis dealer in the country.
As the Howe dirt car design flourished through the mid-1980s, the asphalt chassis designs did not do as well, so Randerson decided to design his own front clip geometry.
For 1985 he used this design on customer cars retrofitting it to existing chassis. For the 1986 season he designed a new asphalt chassis and Lowell Bennett took the first car to New Smyrna, Florida during Speed Weeks, where the car was a huge hit. That design springboarded the company to national prominence and the demand for new cars never slowed for several years. The car design proved to be a force in ASA, ARTGO, All Pro, and short tracks throughout the country.
Randerson designed his own dirt cars for the 1986 season, but their success was lagging behind the tar cars. He kept tweaking the dirt cars, trying to keep up with the evolution of that division nationwide.
By the end of the 1980s the shop had doubled in size, full and part-time employees were added, as well as a strategic dealer network to sell and service Rander-Car chassis in regional areas.
In 1990 he designed an entry level “kit” car using a stock GM frame, including a video showing beginners how to assemble the car. He also held chassis classes at his shop where the basic chassis setup and theory behind it was taught to many first time racers that Randerson introduced to the sport.
In late 1990 a new dirt chassis was designed using a unique rear suspension. Just two of those cars were built for the 1991 season. One was built for Mike Melius, who won the Hales Corners Open and six features that season, and the other for Terry Anvelink who won the Shawano Speedway title.
The asphalt program continued to soar in the 1990s, but during the 1991 season the grueling demands made on Randerson around the clock, with design ideas, car building, setups, phone calls, fixing wrecked cars, and the parts business took its toll. He became physically and mentally exhausted. Phyllis and Mike decided they had taken Rander-Car chassis as far as they could. The business was taken over by Jim Randerson, a nephew of Mike’s in April 1992.
Mike began a new chapter in his life working for Oshkosh Truck, but after several years at that job his creative juices turned again toward racing and race parts. He and Phyllis developed a company known as “Right Foot Performance Products” and soon he was producing new and unique design parts for race cars — both dirt and asphalt. By 2000 his parts were in victory lanes across the country and one of his products won oval track product of the year at the 2001 SEMA show.
In January of 2005 Mike retired from Oshkosh Truck, following several promotions during his stint there. He and Phyllis decided to sell RFPP, which continued to grow at an ever increasing rate. The business was sold to long time friend, customer and co-worker Dave Schneider and his wife Rhonda, in January of 2007.
Not at the finish line just yet, Mike and Phyllis found energy to start a new company called “Revolution Engineering,” which allows Mike to design new products without having to deal with the day to day customer challenges. He continues to do design work and product development through Revolution Engineering for RFPP and has greatly expanded their product lines. Since mid 2014 Mike has been spending less time with design and more time with family. After being involved in racing for more six decades Mike feels very strongly about the following five observations:
- God definitely governs in the affairs of man.
- If all people would help each other like racers do in time of need it would be a wonderful world.
- Always do your best to do the right thing no matter how difficult it might seem at the time.
- Continuing perseverance overcomes all shortcomings.
- Never, ever, burn your bridges behind you.
Mike persevered through life’s challenges to become an outstanding family man, successful businessman, and one of the most renowned stock car chassis designers and car builders of his time. He is so humble about his accomplishments that he did not want to single out the many big name national racers who have won races in his cars all over the country, for fear someone on a local short track level would be left out.
The racers who used his equipment on a weekly short track in a hobby stock car were just as important to Mike as those who won races with his equipment on the grandest stages of the sport in NASCAR, ARTGO, ASA and All Pro. His designs, products, and concern for each and every customer of his are the reason we still have racing in many parts of the state on tracks where he pioneered his ideas.
(This article appeared in the June 2015 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)