Ron Munnerlyn: Official Race Car Driver of the Austin Motel and Honorary Local

By Drew Smith, former front desk manager of the Austin Motel

One of the best things about working at the Austin Motel is getting to know our regulars. There’s the motorcycle-riding county commissioner we call “the judge” (because for years we misunderstood what he actually did), the art gallery owners who always travel with their pugs, and a dazzling array of fascinating hippies, musicians, and writers who just keep coming back. Then there’s Ron Munnerlyn, who has been a faithful guest at the motel since long before I started working here. Ron is just the kind of cool, easygoing guest we love having around. Though he’s from South Carolina—and has an incredible accent to show for it—he has the mellow and fun air of an old school Austinite.

When I heard that the Austin Motel was sponsoring a race car driver who happened to be named Ronald Munnerlyn, it seemed like such a funny coincidence. Two people named Ron Munnerlyn? The Ron I’ve known is a chilled out business traveler, not a race car driver. I didn’t believe it was the same person until I saw pictures of him standing beside his awesome Spec Miata with the Austin Motel’s famous phallus emblazoned on it. Even then I couldn’t believe it.

I’ve been checking you in at the motel for years, and I never knew you had this other life. How long have you been staying at the motel?

I first stayed at the motel in 2001. I came to town for a music weekend, and saw R.W. Hubbard and then Charlie Robison at Gruene Hall.  I spent the rest of the time at Continental Club. I was hooked.

What do you like about staying at the motel?  

I’m really into live, small venue music shows, so the Austin Motel is the perfect place! I can check in then walk just about anywhere I want to go. Continental Club Gallery shows on Wednesday nights, Guero’s outdoors shows, C-Boys, check out shops on South Congress, or even walk across the river into town.

You certainly act like a local when you’re in town.

Until last fall, I was traveling 35 weeks a year for the past 6 years. When I began to travel so much I promised myself that I would not sit in a hotel on the edge of town eating at chain restaurants and drinking at the hotel bar. Instead, I would experience whatever city I was in at the time as a “local.” The Austin Motel is a perfect example—a quirky home base for exploring the local personality of Austin. There is absolutely nothing better than a random weeknight in a city, especially Austin. You never know what you might see or what music experience you might have.  Some random experiences that stick out include walking into the Continental and seeing James McMurtry play in a Wizard of Oz Dorothy costume, drinking at the back bar of the Continental Gallery with a favorite musician after a show, and sitting on the curb at Home Slice after closing eating pizza with the working girls/frat boy/after gig musicians.

So tell me about your second identity. Exactly what kind of racing are you involved in?

Road racing. It doesn’t mean street racing but rather a course where you turn both left and right over a 2 to 3 mile track. Formula One is probably the most well-known road racing (often in city streets). I raced at the Circuit of the Americas in May. I race in a series sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), an organization that’s fairly well known in the racing world.

How do you feel about having the famous Austin Motel phallus on your car? How have other racers and fans responded to it? 

The response has been enormous. Folks are immediately drawn to the car and ask about what the symbol is. The best part is that they always have colloquial names for the body part the sign resembles. I’ve even had folks ask stuff like “Is that a wangdoodle?” The conversation always ends with a discussion about Austin and the Austin Motel. So many folks are interested in Austin but want to know where they should stay to get the full experience, and so I always point in the direction of the giant red wangdoodle.

How have your races been this season? Has being the official driver of the Austin Motel brought you good luck?

I’d say more good cheer than good luck!  Since the sponsorship began I’ve lost a transmission on the first lap of one race and had a rear wheel hub fail and the wheel come off on the last lap of another! And, I have a new car this year so there’s a learning curve related to that as well. Overall, we’ve done well enough to qualify for the national championship race in September.