Steered By a Humble Hand: Stuart Williams
Growing up on a family farm near Fort A.P. Hill, a regional military training center in Virginia, Stuart Williams developed a captivation with motorsports early in life. By the time he’d barely reached his teenage years he could be found glued to his family’s black-and-white television set every time drag racing was broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
But before tuning in to watch, he always had a mountain of chores to accomplish first—sometimes smelly ones—before any leisure activity could be embraced. And performing most of his early labor on the farm even before heading out to elementary school, it didn’t take long before Williams was tagged with the nickname “Pig Pen.”
“I had to feed hogs every morning before school and I still smelled like them when I arrived, so that’s where the nickname came from,” explains Williams, who despite the insult, to this day displays a look of gratitude for real-world lessons received so many years ago.
As he grew up in this northern Virginia military town and likewise in a military family, Williams learned a lot about life and respect to go along with all the hard work that was expected of him, so things like drag racing always had to take a back seat. Devoted to a life of military service, Williams’ father was a strict disciplinarian who demanded respect and honorable living from his children.
“If I disrespected my teacher, my neighbor or my father I would get slapped across my face,” Williams says. In fact, no part of Williams’ early life went unaffected by his strict upbringing, including his dress code. “Back in the 1970s when everyone was wearing an Afro, my hair was cut in a military style,” he recalls.
The examples and lessons that Williams learned growing up were harshly viewed by some; however, they shaped him into the man he is today. “The way I grew up was the only way my father ever taught me and I miss him every day.”
So it wasn’t until after the hogs were slopped, the corn was cut and the barn cleaned out that Williams could indulge his interest in the sport he so desperately wanted to experience firsthand—drag racing. Finally, at age 14, he got his first glimpse of championship drag racing when he caught a ride to Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway with an older friend who had his driver’s license. Soon after arriving, the two teenagers were in awe of the sights and sounds of an NHRA national event. Williams was hooked immediately on the speed and competition, but what fascinated him most were the people, as he began to take note of the personalities involved with the sport more than anything.
“Years later, I was completely fascinated by Don Prudhomme more than anybody else in drag racing; I mean the guy was so cool the way he would walk out and stand behind his car and he never got excited or rattled. And then there was that toothpick; he always had that toothpick,” Williams remembers with a laugh.
It’s not all that surprising then, that many years later when Williams finally became directly involved in drag racing, it was his desire to be the man standing behind his race car on the starting line, studying every aspect of what was going on, and of course, looking cool while doing it.
“I’ve owned a total of three race cars and I never drove any of them,” Williams says. “I did the funding and my drivers had the fun!”
Williams later decided to launch his own racing series in 2008, when he formed the Southern Outlaw Doorslammers. The series was short-lived, however, and lasted only through a name change before Williams moved on to pursue other interests.
Understandably then, Williams was somewhat apprehensive when he was approached in 2009 by his friend, Karon Woodard, with the idea of launching the Extreme Outlaw Pro Mod (EOPM) series.
“I honestly thought I was done with running a racing series,” Williams laughs, as he recalls mixed emotions at the time. But after careful planning during the winter months, the first-ever EOPM event was held at North Carolina’s Roxboro Dragway on Easter Weekend in 2010.
No one in attendance that day could really have envisioned how the club would take off. But four years later, it still seems like something of a dream to Williams when he ponders the rapid explosion of popularity the EOPM has experienced in a relatively short span of time.
Sitting in the tower during the EOPM event at Virginia Motorsports Park (VMP) this year, Williams directs attention to the starting line where Charlie Buck, Sonny Leonard and Pat Musi are all lined up as they carefully evaluate performances of their various racer customers.
“It blows my mind that three of biggest names in engine building is at this moment standing on the starting line of an EOPM race,” Williams declares, shaking his head almost in profound disbelief.
The EOPM has enjoyed rapid success by most people’s standards, but the triumph didn’t happen overnight and certainly not by accident. Rather, a sequence of early and significant occurrences advanced EOPM to the next level very quickly, particularly by way of a partnership with former Dunn-Benson Dragstrip owner, Roger Williams.
“Roger was very open to the idea of bringing the EOPM to Benson a couple years ago and he stepped up by increasing the pay structure and also by awarding $1,000 to qualify, which really attracted more cars as well as high-caliber cars,” Williams says. Throughout 2012, the EOPM held monthly races at Dunn-Benson, essentially designating it the EOPM’s home track.
This year, EOPM not only continued to schedule events at the legendary grass-roots facilities of the Southeast such as Farmington, Dunn-Benson and Coastal Plains Dragway, but Williams also inked deals with premier, national-event facilities such as the aforementioned Virginia Motorsports Park, Atlanta Dragway and zMax Dragway in Charlotte. Additionally, the EOPM formed a partnership with Super Chevy Show to be the headlining Pro Mod attraction at several Super Chevy events.
There’s no question that credit for the success of the Extreme Outlaw Pro Mods largely belongs to Stuart Williams—and rightfully so considering he’s the front man of this drag racing band—but Williams will go out of his way to divert attention from himself, instead heaping praise on those around him. He rarely misses an opportunity to point out a member of the EOPM team walking into the VMP control tower to describe how much they mean to him both personally and professionally.
“The best people in all of drag racing are involved with this series,” Williams states with conviction.
Among those “best people” Williams refers to is engine builder Buck, who has played a tremendous role in EOPM’s development, both as a highly vocal supporter and series sponsor, and by assisting Williams in securing high-profile sponsorships from several other performance-related businesses throughout drag racing.
“People like Ross Pistons and Dart Machinery don’t know who I am, but they know who Charlie Buck is,” Williams says, smiling. “Charlie has always been a big supporter of Stuart Williams, personally as well as professionally, and I have much love and respect for him.”
Williams brightens as he remembers another of Buck’s contributions.
“Hey, did I tell you about the bet that Rick Moore and Charlie Buck made earlier this year?” Williams asks. He explains that Moore, a key partner to Williams and also the talented EOPM tech director, challenged Buck to see who could raise the most sponsorship money for the series.
“Rick Moore came to me at the beginning of the year and mentioned how cool it would be if we could offer a $10,000 point fund payout for the season champion, which I thought sounded great, but wondered how it could possibly be financed,” Williams says. He claims it remains unclear who actually won the friendly wager between Moore and Buck, but the end result is that $10,000 is, in fact, awaiting the eventual 2013 EOPM champion.
“I’m honestly just along for the ride and I’m so blessed to be around these great people,” Williams insists. Along with Buck and Moore, the EOPM employs a staff of key personnel that includes Barry Murray, Wilbur Peyton, T.J. Paul and Logan Paul, who are present at each and every event, along with photographer Tim Lewis. “Without these guys this series would not exist,” Williams states.
Unfortunately, Williams and the tight-knit EOPM organization were hard hit this past April, but their relationship grew even stronger when his health became a subject of major concern.
“Truth is, I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Williams reveals. Still, his spirits couldn’t be higher considering the circumstances and he believes it’s largely because of those who surround him. “I’ve told Rick and Charlie that if God takes me I’m ready to go because I’m a Christian and I know where I’m going, but I’ve also told them that I want this organization to go on without me should I be taken.”
The constant dream for Williams has always been for the EOPM series to reach the next big level—as well as many levels to follow. “It’s always been a goal of mine to one day see the EOPM on television and I think we’re close to achieving that,” he says.
And though the series has already exceeded many of his expectations, Williams reminds his staff often of his goals and tells them that even though he may not be here to see it all happen, his steadfast desire is for the club to keep pressing forward and reaching new heights, just as it’s always done from the beginning.