How a career-best finish was heartbreaking for Josh Williams

Restarting 11th with four laps to go in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway, Williams saw his chance for a top-10 finish, something he had done only five times in 90 previous starts.

He had fresh tires and hope. There are no more powerful allies in racing. Especially for one who calls himself an old-school racer for how he worked his way up to driving for a small-budget Xfinity team. 

“Late in the race like that, when everybody is really trying to get after it, it is kind of like roulette,” Williams told NBC Sports. “You really never know what number it is going to land on.”

As the field entered Turn 1 on the restart, a lane opened on the bottom. Williams charged. The DGM Racing driver climbed to eighth by the backstretch. He gained two more spots to finish a career-high sixth.

After the checkered flag, he returned to pit road. Williams unbuckled his belts. He removed his helmet. Williams paused as he climbed from his car. He sat on the driver’s side window. And bowed his head.

He was not celebrating.

He was mourning.

Josh Williams, 27, starts conversations with “hey brother.” So maybe it isn’t surprising that he once hired a person he met at a gas station.

Williams had come across the guy a couple of times at the track but didn’t know his name. He had also seen him at the gas station near Williams’ shop before. On this particular day a few years ago, Williams was preparing to go to Daytona for an ARCA race and needed some help. When he saw the familiar fellow at the gas station, Williams struck up a conversation. He asked the guy if he wanted to help him at the track. Williams got a quick “yes.” Williams said they would leave from the shop, got his phone number and told Tim Hayes: “Let’s go racing.”

Hayes worked on and off for Williams for a spell before he joined Josh Williams Motorsports full-time. Williams’ operation takes care of racing vehicles from Bandolero cars and Legends Cars to Late Models for others.

“We try to get these kids to where I was,” Williams said of his development program.

Hayes helped Williams’ Xfinity crew at times, but Hayes’ focus was working on the cars at Williams’ shop and helping the young drivers who piloted them.

Hayes was easy to get along with, Williams said. The bond between Williams and Hayes grew quickly.

“I don’t think I ever went a day in the shop without laughing my ass off about something (Hayes) had to say,” Williams said. “He was one the funniest dudes I’ve ever been around.”

Hayes’ life wasn’t always full of laughter, though.

“I know he was battling depression for a long time,” Williams said. “When I met him, he was in a pretty rough place. He told me probably about nine months ago, he said, ‘Man, if I hadn’t met you and your wife I don’t

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In Ohio State football’s safety competition, Marcus Hooker and Josh Proctor meet at career crossroads

COLUMBUS, Ohio — To understand Marcus Hooker’s career arc with Ohio State football, you must first understand the shadows.

He followed in the footsteps of an older brother, Malik, who grew into an All-American and first-round NFL Draft pick for the Buckeyes. He arrived to a program loaded with elite talent as a modest prospect, unable to crack the top 600 in the Class of 2018 recruiting consensus. His OSU career began with a suspension stemming from an off-season arrest.

After arriving in Columbus, he acquired another shadow — and a friend. Josh Proctor, the touted, top-100 safety prospect in the Buckeyes’ 2018 class, both challenged and championed Hooker.

“He always brought out the best to me and I always brought out the best in him,” Hooker said. “He always was telling me, to just keep going — don’t worry about that play or things that were bothering me at the time. We were always being the good teammate and friends to where we are bringing each other up, and not dwell on things that were bothering us.”

From their shared shadow, Proctor and Hooker watched Jordan Fuller set the new standard for safety play at Ohio State in 2019. One will replace him this season, playing without a net at the back end of a revamped secondary. Two players who began their careers with polar opposite expectations now meet at a career crossroads.

Last January, Proctor seemed the odds-on favorite to own the safety job in 2020. The prospect credentials. The big plays in backup action. With Fuller moving on, time had come for Proctor to transition from playmaker-in-waiting to star-in-the-making.

• Starting long snapper named, clarity in the safety competition: Ohio State football news

Proctor, however, was not recruited to play the safety position as it is now configured at Ohio State.

Former defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley gave Fuller the nickname “The Eraser” last season for his ability to prevent big plays. More than ever, the single-high safety in the Buckeyes’ revamped defense served as the last line of defense. Fuller made sure the secondary set up correctly, put himself in position to make plays over a vast chunk of the field, and then made those plays.

As the competition evolved during the offseason, something shifted. Cleveland.com reported to Buckeye Talk text subscribers in August that Hooker was working as the lone safety with the No. 1 defense. The competition carried into preseason camp.

Barnes did not anoint either Hooker or Proctor as the starting successor to Fuller. Yet consider his responses when asked to compare and contrast the two leading contenders and decide which one sounds more like an Eraser-in-waiting.

“When I think of Marcus Hooker, I think of a true centerfielder,” Barnes said. “I think of a really rangy player, that’s instinctive, that has — I would go as far as to say’ freakish’ — ball skills, and that he really tracks the ball well and does a great job of going to get it. Runs

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