Eric Williams was full of surprises on Saturday night when the ACT Late Models. Not many observers saw him sneak through the pack from his 25th starting position to a battle with Brian Hoar for the lead with 15 laps to go.
But the first surprise was that Williams was even there. The low buck Vermont racer has been sticking close to home this season. While it was a no-brainer to tow to last week's TD Banknorth Oxford 250 to try and chase the $25,000 plus winner's share of the purse, nobody really thought that he'd head to Beech Ridge as well.
Especially since Williams didn't get to turn many wrenches on his car between the two races.
“Do you know what I did to this thing after Oxford?” asked Williams. “I put a half quart of oil in it and put a fender brace back on. Then we set the car up here at the track today. That is all that I had time for.”
Williams didn't neglect his #7VT Late Model because he was lazy or because he was on vacation. Instead, he focused on the Street Stock driven by his teenage son, Tucker Williams -and that approach paid some big dividends.
“We wrecked his car at Thunder Road last Thursday,” said Eric. “He hit the wall hard. So we had to fix that. I wasn't planning even coming here. But he won Thursday night and then he won Friday night at Riverside. So then we were pumped. They kept us in tech there until 1:30. We got home at 3am and then got up at 6:30 to switch the cars out of the trailer and load our tires. We left at 7:30 and headed out here.”
When Tucker races, Eric is the crew chief…and when Eric races, Tucker is the crew chief.
“That's what we do,” said Eric simply. “Tucker does one heck of a job for me.
Tucker's two victories of the week came in some pretty tough events - a regular weekly show at Thunder Road and the Jake McDowell Memorial 100 at Riverside. His runner-up effort as a top wrench came against a pit area with 43 really good Late Model teams in it. That begs the question, is Tucker a better crew chief or driver?
“Um…I have no idea,” said Tucker shyly when asked the question.
“He is great at both,” said Eric. “He does great with both things and I'm proud of him. He drove one heck of a race last night.”
That is when Tucker interrupted his father.
“That was nothing compared to what you did tonight,” Tucker said. “You started further back.”
“But you went through a lot of lapped cars,” replied Eric. “You did pretty good yourself.”
Even then, Tucker still argued - downplaying his own talent behind the wheel and crediting his father for the success of the Williams' Street Stock team
“He's got the car going pretty good,” said Tucker.
So good that Eric almost choose to park his Late Model for the night and run the Street Stock one more time.
“I almost took him to White Mountain tonight so he could try and win three in a row at three tracks. But I wanted to support ACT because I didn't know how many cars would tow here. Then we got here and there were quite a few. He was good about the decision.
“I had never been here and after he won the two races in a row, I was wicked pumped. You just want to go racing. That's it. If he had two bad nights, I probably would have said to screw it and we'd have worked on my car to go to Claremont because that is only two hours away. But Beech Ridge has always been a big name in my book. I've never seen the track, but I've always wanted to run here. The weather was looking good, so I didn't want to miss out on it. That's what we did. Yesterday afternoon, we got a few things ready so it was a quick switch over between cars. That only took us about 45 minutes.”
Without any full-time help, or time of their own to work on the car, father and son have gotten pretty good at making every second count.
“I run an auto repair shop, so I work on the [race] car in between jobs,” said Eric.
“I just work on it during my free time, mostly on weekends,” said Tucker.
Of course, Tucker Williams doesn't get much free time. He is still an 18-year-old high school student and racing isn't his only pursuit.
“He also plays soccer and basketball, so he keeps busy,” said Eric. “I am wicked proud of him. He's a good kid, he really is.”
Good kid or not, Williams isn't ready to give up his own ride to his son. In a sport where every parent seems to think that they have to produce the next Joey Logano, Eric Williams has a refreshing attitude about moving up through the ranks of racing - even if he is talking about his own son.
“Right now, money is tight. I can't afford to run it full-time,” said Eric when he was asked about the possibility of Tucker running a Late Model. “ I'd not like I can just throw him in and let him race. He's got a little bit more time ahead of him though. He needs to get a little more experience under his belt first. I'm not a believer in moving up quick. I think that you should win races and then move up to the next level. That's where you learned about getting pinched down and how to work lapped cars.”
Still, the concept of the ACT Late Models is something that works out well for the Williams' race team. At Beech Ridge, he was nearly able to beat one of the most professional and well-funded operations in the business - the RPM Motorsports team of Brian Hoar.
“We did pretty good,” said Williams, who then paused for a moment to look over at the winning team surrounding Brian Hoar.
“That's a pretty good outfit over there,” he continued, tilting his thumb towards victory lane. “That is the deal with these cars, it shows that anything is possible.”