Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Josh Williams, who races in the Xfinity Series for DGM Racing.
How did this all get started for you? Did you grow up thinking you wanted to be part of racing?
I played normal sports as a kid, started racing when I was four and a half years old, running go-karts. Kind of the typical race car driver story.
Did you have a racing family?
I did. My dad started racing in Indiana and moved to Florida. He raced on South Florida short tracks and won championships. Most of the track records I had to break in Florida were his. He’s the reason why I race.
Always went to the racetrack with him when I was little. When I raced go-karts or quarter midgets or things, he’d race open-wheel modifieds or late models or sportsman cars. I just loved it. Something about it intrigued me a lot. It’s just a different feeling, winning races and getting your picture taken on the frontstretch and things like that. The checkered flag is addicting.
When you were little, were you thinking NASCAR all the way? That’s what you wanted to be involved in?
Not really. Up until I was about 14, I was racing just to race and go to the next level. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I want to be a Cup driver.” Probably the year before I started racing in the ARCA Series, when I turned 15, I started thinking, “Man, maybe we could make this a career and stick with it and maybe race in the Cup Series one day.” I’ve always tried to make that my goal and open every door I can. It’s a tough road to do it if you’re someone like me and trying to do your own deal. I wear a lot of hats when I’m at the racetrack, so it’s a little different story than your typical driver.
I’m assuming no one was ever like, “Congratulations, here’s a pile of money.” You’ve had to do this yourself. How did you progress from ARCA ultimately to where you are now?
My family supported all of my racing up until the ARCA Series. We did have Musselman’s Apple Sauce as a sponsor there for a little while. We’ve had a few smaller sponsors — Go Puck, Krankz Audio. We’ve had a few people come in off the side when we were running in ARCA and help us out a little bit.
And we were low budget. We’d buy scuffed tires from some of the bigger teams and practice on them. They quit selling us scuffs after awhile because we were beating them and they were a little upset.
You see a few family-owned teams, even in Xfinity, but it’s tough to race against these big guys with all the funding and somebody who says, “Here’s a couple million. Go play.” We haven’t opened that door yet, but we’re not going to stop until we find it. We’re working with some really good people now in the Xfinity Series on a lower budget scale with Sleep Well and also Star Tron. They’ve helped us out a lot to get to this point. So just trying to build relationships and open doors and hopefully we knock on the right one and they hand us a pile of money and we get to go play.
When you won a couple times in ARCA (in 2016), were you thinking people would notice and things would get a lot easier? What was the aftermath of that?
Not really. I knew the position we were in and the way the racing model is held now compared to what it used to be. For us, that was huge. That was like winning the championship — having one car, having a dually truck pulling a gooseneck trailer and just running against the big boys and winning races. I knew it wasn’t going to be something spectacular — like, “Oh, I’m going to get a Cup ride tomorrow” — but it did open some people’s eyes who didn’t know much about me. They knew who I was, they knew we ran up front. But sealing the deal and winning a couple races in the ARCA Series, people were like, “Man, this guy is actually the real deal. He’s pretty good.”
How’s it been so far in Xfinity? What are some of the triumphs and struggles you have here?
The struggles are always the normal struggles you have here — tires, pit crews, motors, cars, quality of equipment. The good thing about it is I’m getting a lot of seat time, I’m learning a lot about the cars and the different setups, different tracks, things like that. I like it. It’s just a learning curve. I haven’t run all the races this year, just a limited schedule. But I’m learning a lot and I’m OK with that.
Since you don’t have the same funding as those you’re competing against, what’s your goal when you go out there? Do you have certain numbers in mind?
I don’t know if you’ve heard Corey LaJoie joke about his “GT Class” in the Cup Series, but we call it different levels. So if we can win our class — 20th, 25th — that’s great for us.
In Vegas, we finished 20th on two sets of tires and no pit crew. For us, that’s phenomenal. It’s tough, but you’ve got to just race your race and not worry about the circumstances. Like when you come down pit road and you know you’re going to put on 30-lap-old tires, you’re like, “Man, these guys are going to drive away from me for a minute.” But once it all levels out, it’s not so bad.
So when you have days like that, are you like, “Oh my gosh, people need to be paying attention to this?” Because from a media standpoint, everyone is looking at the front and focused on that. But are you like waving your arms like, “Pay attention to this second race, too?”
It would be nice for a lot of people to maybe focus on the latter half of the field. That’s where most of the good racing is. A lot of people miss it.
Talking about Vegas and Ross (Chastain) winning, that was big for drivers like myself and a few other drivers in the Xfinity field. Ross is just like me. We raced at the same racetrack in Florida. We’ve beat each other’s fenders off, we’ve wrecked each other, we’ve fought. We’re past all that now — we were like 14 years old.
But we work hard Monday through Friday and we race on Saturdays. We don’t just race on Saturday and wait until next Saturday. We’ve got jobs. So (when Chastain won), I was like, “Man, that’s cool,” because I can do it. You’ve just got to get that opportunity. You’ve got to be in that good car, you’ve got to be in that good piece and show everybody what you can do. If you can get in a good car and run fifth, then run fifth. Don’t tear it up trying to win a race — unless you get wrecked by (Kevin) Harvick, and then it’s an unfortunate situation.
It’s going to be a hot one here tonight @KySpeedway looking forward to a fun 200laps. We have a pretty good @Sleep_Well_Inc Chevy today in Race trim #JWM2018 #Underdogs #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/rbX0AsGK8L
— Josh Williams (@Josh6williams) July 13, 2018
What is your week like? What do you do during the week?
Me and my fiancee, Trazia, we own a property preservation company. We clean out foreclosed homes, we do maintenance on them, things like that. Fix anything that’s broken to get it ready for the bank to sell. So we do that during the week.
I also own JW Motorsports, which is what we used for the ARCA Series. We build some cars for people, do a lot of short track stuff — street stocks, modifieds, late models. We build some road race cars for some people. So there’s a lot going on in the week and we try to race on the weekends.
So a bank forecloses on a house and the previous owner trashed it before they left, and someone calls you and your fiancee to come in and get it cleaned up before it gets sold?
Yep, that’s pretty much what we do. We’re a third party, so there’s a middle person in between us. They just feed us jobs, and we go in and finish them.
So you’re doing the work yourselves? Repairing walls, things like that?
(Chuckles) Oh yeah.
How did you get into that?
A mutual friend of ours was talking about it and thinking about doing it. I talked to her about and said, “Let’s just see what happens. We’ve got a truck, we’ve got a trailer, we’ve got some equipment. Let’s give it a shot.” We started with it, and we’re still gaining on it — we’re not making a bunch of money — but it’s helping us out a lot as far as getting things prepared.
I guess I would think that would be kind of humbling. Here you just finished 20th in a NASCAR race that was watched by a lot of people and then you’re cleaning out these houses the next week. It would be like, “The glory was right there — and now I’m here,” you know?
Yeah. I don’t mind it, though. That’s just who I am. I’m just a normal person like everybody else. I think that’s what people enjoy about me. I’ll sit down and have a conversation with you at the racetrack, even if I don’t know who you are. We’ll be pushing through the garage somewhere and somebody will just be standing there and I’ll say, “Hey, you want to push a race car?” They’ll be like, “Oh yeah!” They don’t know it’s because we’ve only got two people pushing; they think it’s cool.
But you have a conversation with them, you get to know people and you make fans. I think it’s cool to give people the time of day. I don’t know if you’ve seen these children’s hospital tours we do when we go to these racetracks, but we go visit them all over the country and try to share the love. I’m a normal person, man; I’m just a race car driver on the weekends.
What else would you like people to know about you or your story?
I’d like people to know I’m a real racer. I’m the old-school racer, where people used to enjoy watching NASCAR and they liked the guy who is a little rough who is not afraid to voice his opinion or get out and go rough you up a little bit. And I also get along with people in the same way. I just want them to know I am the old-school model and a real racer, and I don’t want them to give up on the sport thinking there’s none of us left.
I always ask people for recommendations for those who want to make it to where you are. For people who are reading this and have the dream of racing, is it still possible to make it the way you have?
I think it’s still possible. Is it getting harder and harder by the day? Yes it is. The biggest thing is to always be yourself, focus on your dream, accomplish your goals and do what you have to do to accomplish those goals. If you’ve got to put in the work and fly here to meet this person to see if they want to sponsor your race car, even if you waste two days of your time and they say no, you never know. That could change in a couple years. But they know who you are, you went there and put in the effort.
You have to want it. On my Twitter (profile), it says, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” I try to base my model off that and give it all I’ve got.