I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do some pretty neat things in my years in motorsports.
I once went on a helicopter trip, a first for me, with Jimmie Johnson, who rides in them all the time. I’ve been to sprint car races with Tony Stewart, flown on airplanes with Bill Elliott at the controls, cooked out with Carl Edwards and listened to him play guitar, traveled around Nashville with the late Bobby Hamilton. I’ve watched tapes of old races with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and helped his late father sort out a wiring problem on a race car trailer.
But none of those experiences mean more to me than the times I spent with Ricky Williams and his wife Terri back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he was racing Limited Sportsman.
We rode to most of those races in a homemade ramp truck built from an old Ford pickup. It had about a half a round of play in the steering wheel and burned so much oil that when we changed the oil in the race car, we’d put in an old milk jug and use it in the truck.
After all these years, I still feel as close to the Williams family as if they were blood kin.
So it should be understandable that I have more than just a passing interest in the budding career of Ricky’s and Terri’s grandson, Bailey Williams.
A couple of Saturday nights ago, Terri, who had kind of drifted away from racing after years of doing nothing else on weekends for decades, was back at the track for only the second time in recent years.
It was neat for me to watch her as Bailey won the pole for the Limited Late Model race, the first of his career, while his dad Richie, making a rare start, qualified second.
I’ve watched other grandmothers watch their grandsons race, and it’s always interesting. I remember when Mari Hulman George, whose family owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway, would show up at ARCA races to watch her grandson Kyle Krisiloff compete
If you didn’t know who she was, you’d never guess because she stayed out of the limelight and was there only to support Kyle.
I’ve watched Martha Earnhardt quietly support her grandson, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
At Senoia, Bailey Williams, who started racing this season, took off in a hurry at the drop of the green flag and was stretching his lead just after the halfway point when he spun in Turn Four, opening the door for another long-time friend, Glenn Morris, to get his first win of the season.
Few were as disappointed about Bailey’s spin, or as philosophical, as his grandmother. Her way of putting the events of the night in perspective and focusing on the positives of a good performance, came from years of experience at the tracks.
She pointed out that her husband, in addition to hundreds of feature wins, has had his share of setbacks, too.
There was a Rome Boss 100 where Ricky was leading by a half track with a few laps remaining and blew an engine. (He does have a win in that race however.)
And there was a big race at Dixie Speedway where he had passed Buddy Morris for the lead and pulled away only to have a wheel come loose and cost him a $3,000 paycheck. When the Hav-A-Tampa Series made a rare stop at Seven Flags Speedway in Douglasville, Ricky passed Wade Knowles for the lead only to get tangled up with a lapped driver and fall out of contention.
But, like the real racers they are, the Williams family bounced back from those disappointments, and continued on in the sport, with Ricky now celebrating his 41st season as Bailey begins his first.
For some time now, I’ve been telling Terri she needed to start back attending races regularly. I told her, only half jokingly, that she might as well come because all the other old-timers from back in the day are there.
Now she has an even better reason, as she relayed in a message on Facebook.
“I think I will be back again and again,” she said. “I enjoyed watching Bailey. He reminds me of Ricky a lot, but I don’t think Ricky ever ran that close to the wall!!”