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 …Read more