For over a decade, Josh Williams has grinded away to get himself into the spotlight. Now, his joyous, yet take no BS, racer’s mentality has gotten him in arguably the best position he’s ever been in.
Williams, 28, has spent the better part of the last four years competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with DGM Racing. Since 2019, the Florida native is a full-time competitor, splitting driving duties between the Nos. 36 and 92 cars.
“He helped build the program,” Mario Gosselin, owner of DGM Racing, said of Williams. “We‘re all in this together. From doing start and parks to running one, two, three races into growing to what we‘ve grown into now. He‘s been part of this team since the beginning of full-time Xfinity racing.”
Coming off the high of scoring six top-10 finishes just a season ago, Williams struggled to start the 2021 season. Sure, he earned four top-20 finishes in the opening seven races of the year, but then came a streak of three straight finishes of 28th or worse, including two DNFs at Darlington Raceway and Dover International Speedway.
Of course, those DNFs weren’t of his own doing. At Darlington, Ryan Vargas “John Forced” his No. 6 Chevrolet out of his pit box and put Williams into the pit wall. Day over.
At Dover, Jesse Little spun off of Turn 2, triggering a four-car pileup, which included Williams’ No. 92 car, pinched against the wall.
It’s safe to say that Williams was frustrated.
“It affects more than just one race, being a small team with not a pile of racecars sitting there,” Williams told Jayski.com of those two incidents. “It hurts us on our decision for the next [race] we go to.
“We‘ve had speed and had some bad luck. It lasted longer than it needed to and it put us back a lot.”
But the most flabbergasted moment of the season for the No. 92 team came at Circuit of The Americas, the week following Dover. In qualifying, Williams put down a quick lap, which the team believed was quick enough to make the show. So much so that the team was pushing the car to the starting grid.
The lap wasn‘t good enough. And an embarrassed Williams, who ranked 20th in the driver standings, wasn’t able to race.
“We thought we were going to be OK and we decided to use an older set of rain tires from earlier in the year at the Daytona road course, and they just didn‘t have the grip that we needed,” Williams said. “I think that‘s the worst one of the year, really.”
While sitting on the sidelines in Austin, Texas, Williams called his marketing manager, Meghan Henriques. Williams was irritated with what just happened. After all, he ended the 2020 season 15th in points, just six months earlier.
He was questioning everything.
“[Williams] was like, ‘I can‘t do this anymore,”” Henriques recalled. “I was like, ‘You need to calm down; you didn‘t run out of talent overnight, settle down and we‘ll talk soon. Give me a call on your way home, whatever works.””
After going to lunch with some of his team members, Williams changed his mentality and returned to the track to help DGM load up its cars and equipment. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“I don‘t know how many other drivers would do that after that frustrating of a day,” Henriques explained. “They would have already been gone. But he‘s not that kid. He‘s the ultimate team player, but he also likes to be the leader.”
Gosselin, the feisty team owner, was dumbfounded as well. But he knew the entire organization wasn’t doing anything different from last year, when it saw a multitude of on-track success.
“You start second guessing everything you‘re doing, and you know in your heart that you‘re not doing anything different and you‘ve got to keep plugging at it,” Gosselin stated. “My motto is everybody keeps their heads down and just keeps doing what we‘re doing. We know we‘re better than that; we know we can be competitive and run up front.”
Since COTA, Williams has turned his season around. At the series’ next road course, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the No. 92 car rebounded to a 10th-place finish — his lone top 10 of the year. Prior to getting dumped by Akinori Ogata last weekend at Richmond Raceway, he was on a streak of five consecutive top 20s. Still, he had fun at the short track, even rubbing fenders with Dale Earnhardt Jr. After the event, the duo chuckled about the hard on-track racing. So much so, Earnhardt invited Williams onto his popular Dale Jr Download this week.
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) September 11, 2021
Not too shabby of a turnaround for the small team with a handful of employees.
“You‘ve got to do a reset,” Williams said of how he turned his year around. “You‘ve got to be like, ‘Alright, this week, we‘re just going to make all the laps. Then, the next week, we creep on it a little more and you‘ve got to change your aggression.’ There are times where you‘re going to have to lift and wait a couple of laps. That‘s how we‘ve been playing it.
“I feel like we‘re back to where we were halfway through the year. We‘ve got a short amount of time to make that even better.”
Sure, the racer’s mentality says to race. But Williams knows he’s got to be around for the full distance of the race. Having fielded ARCA cars in the past, as well as his current legends and bandolero team with Josh Williams Motorsports, that’s how he was bred.
“I think that‘s what a lot of teams look at when they look at me as a driver,” he said. “‘Well, this dude has got it figured out. He‘s not going to tear our stuff up and he‘s going to get us the best finish that we can have. If the car is a 25th-place car, then we‘re going to finish 20th. If it‘s a 15th-place car, we‘ll finish 10th.‘”
While Williams continues to impress on the racetrack, he’s been mourning off it.
Over the past 14 months, Williams has seen three key figures in his life pass away. It started last July, when spotter Brad Campbell died after being involved in an accident on the way to the airport to travel to Texas Motor Speedway. Last October, the night before Williams earned his best career finish of sixth at Kansas Speedway, Tim Hayes, one of JWM’s employees, died at his home. And during Speedweek earlier this year, Rusty Crews, who often helped out DGM, passed away after having a medical episode following his attempt to break up a fight during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing events at New Smyrna Speedway.
Williams said, “When we heard about [Crews’ death] we were at the racetrack at Auburndale [Speedway] running the Winter Nationals for legends cars. Me and one of my guys, John, we were like, ‘When is this shit going to stop?’ It would never end and it was one thing after another. I couldn‘t believe it.
“It‘s one of them deals where you wish you could change it all, but it‘s just part of life and you have to deal with it and do your best to keep digging.”
Those trio of people are still around spiritually, Williams believes. He said specifically of Hayes, “He still hangs out with us in the shop. He lets us know he‘s there from time to time.”
So with all of the heartache and frustration from the past 14 months, how does Williams keep going?
“He‘s extremely even keeled. He‘s a very positive person, he‘s very balanced,” Henriques said. “The same kid that climbs through the racecar is the same kid you were talking to two hours ago. He brings out the best in everyone.
“Any program that Josh has ever been a part of he elevates. It‘s like he brings the positivity to everything, as well as experience and how hard he‘ll work with [the team].”
Henriques also believes the recent adversity is part of his story, recalling a conversation she had with Williams: “After the Cinderella year you had during COVID, sixth place at Kansas, six top 10s, we were getting mad if he finished 16th. You can handle the good times, you grinded it up, now let‘s throw a curveball at you, can you handle this? Again, he‘s proven that he can.”
With the 2021 season rapidly winding down, Williams believes he’s in the best position he’s ever been in entering the offseason. He’s only added sponsorship, losing none.
Potentially, his head down, grind it out, underdog approach will pay off.
“I think our partners have grown with us,” he stated. “Budgets are getting better and there‘s more meetings, interaction and B2B opportunities. There‘s a lot of things that came together this year that haven‘t been as great in years past.”
For now, though, Williams is focused on closing out 2021 strong for DGM.
“Gain as many points as we can so we can stay inside that top 20 for the bonus at the end of the year for drivers and owners points,” Williams said. “That‘ll go through the winter to survive off of and DGM can continue on and have that little bit of extra funding to make it through the winter to keep people on and refresh cars, new motors.”