Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Ain't Quite Ready": Defending Merchants Bank 150 Winner Williams to Miss Thunder Road Opener

BARRE -- Eric Williams is a Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl champion. He's the defending winner of the American-Canadian Tour's season-opening Merchants Bank 150 at the track, and won the ACT season finale at Maine's Oxford Plains Speedway last October. He's a winner of the Milk Bowl and Labor Day Classic.

And on Sunday, he'll be a spectator.

Williams confirmed to Vermont Motorsports Magazine on Tuesday that he will not be competing at Thunder Road in the Merchants Bank 150, an event that he and son Tucker made history at last year by becoming just the third father-and-son duo to win at the track on the same day.

"I just ain't quite ready," Williams said. "That's just the way things panned out this year."

Williams took delivery of a new chassis from Michigan-based Howe Enterprises during the off-season, but says the demands of running a one-man auto repair shop in sleepy Hyde Park and focusing on his son's move up to the Tiger Sportsman division this year have forced his own racing to take a back seat, at least temporarily.

"I got a good deal with Howe, but I was pushed into doing most of the work on the car myself," Williams explained. "It was a bad winter at the shop until a couple of weeks ago, and now that the racing season is about to start and the car needs to be finished I've got a lot of business I need to take care of."

Williams said he's been getting up between 4:30 and 5:00 each morning to work on his and Tucker's race cars before the repair shop opens, and that lately each weekend has had a pair of 12-hour days spent entirely on race cars and trying to secure sponsorship. The sale of his old Late Model two weeks ago put some much-needed cash in the racing account, hasn't afforded Williams any time. "The body is almost done, and I just need to build the ductwork for the radiator," he says, "but the [sponsorship] money wasn't there during the winter and I couldn't close the shop down for a day or two to work on the race car and get it done then."

Sponsorship has been something Williams has struggled to find in rural Lamoille County since long-time backer Unicel was absorbed by telecommunications giant AT&T and forced out of racing in late 2008, and a lack of financial support last year allowed Williams to race in only 10 of the 13 ACT events, forcing him to give up a chance at back-to-back Thunder Road championships.

"David Storey (of Second Storey Homes) helped a little last year and he might do a little this year, but we haven't figured that out yet. Ward's Systems told me they're going to help at some point, but they can't commit to what they did last year. Other people have talked and done nothing. Some of them, I've wanted to tell 'em to get bent, but I guess that's when my saying of 'keeping it real' kind of goes wrong."

For now, Tucker Williams will campaign a full rookie season in the Tiger Sportsman class with Eric helping as crew chief, but the elder Williams' car sits idle. He said he is "hoping" to make the Spring Green event at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., next week, but is more likely to wait until the May 16 event at Oxford to make his debut for the year.

"Everything happened late this year, I guess," he said. "Late isn't good for me, but it is what it is."

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