After 10 years driving go-karts, the transition to a late model was anything but easy for Kingsport Speedway’s Nik Williams.
Williams’s dad bought him a late model three years ago, a first asphalt car for the family that, up to that point, had only owned dirt cars for many years up.
Williams’s first time out in a late model was a struggle.
"My first race I got lapped and I told my dad, ‘I’m never getting lapped again, that was embarrassing.’ And I never got lapped again. That’s the kind of person I am I guess," Williams said.
By the end of the year, Williams had become a bit more comfortable, reaching the top 5 a few times at Kingsport, a 0.375-mile semi-banked concrete oval in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The next season, the gradual climb to the top continued. After buying a new car midway through the season, Williams won six of the final eight races, a sign of more good things to come for the young driver.
Williams’s reached the peak this year, winning seven races on the way the Highlands Sign Shop Late Model Stock Car division championship at Kingsport and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Tennessee championships.
Williams was one of five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champions crowned at Kingsport this year. Kevin Wolfe won the Super Transmissions Mod Street title, while Keith Helton took home the Pure 4 title while finishing second in the national Division IV standings. Kevin Canter became a four-time Mod 4 champion, and Doug Austin won his second Pure Street division crown.
It’s taken time for Williams to find steady success in a late model, but he’s used to winning races. He won 10 championships in 10 years racing go-karts before making the switch to a stock car.
His competitive nature took over when he transitioned to a new car.
"I’ve just been around racing, I know you struggle going to a different car. It really motivated me honestly," he said. "I’m competitive in everything. If you want to race me in the house I’ll beat you… I wanted to win, no doubt about it."
This season was all Williams’s from the start. There was one race he got wrecked and tore the whole nose off of his car, and was still able to get it back on the track and win the race.
Much of his success this season was simply carried momentum from the strong end to 2018. Winning consistently gave him confidence.
"Definitely the turning point was last year the middle of the year," Williams said. "Going into this season I had more experience, I knew the drivers at Kingsport better, knew what they did, what they don’t do, and I just felt more comfortable in the car. Plus my crew got better, my crew chief got better, made the car better. I just felt more comfortable this year."
Williams is the first in his family to drive, and the first in his family to choose asphalt over dirt. Both his dad and grandfather owned dirt track cars, so simply getting the late model ready for races was different than they were used to.
Williams said he’s not even sure why he chose asphalt over dirt, given he said there are about four dirt tracks near his home. But Kingsport was the natural choice when he got into a late model, since it’s just over 20 minutes from where he lives.
Another former Kingsport driver, Jeff Maupin, helped Williams get used to the late model and his new home track.
"When we first got the car he (Maupin) ran it a few races and went and tested with us and I pretty much just picked it up from him," Williams said. "He gave me a lot of pointers. He helped me the most, for sure."
Racing not only gives Williams an outlet for his competitive nature, it’s also given him a chance to work closely with his own family. His dad owns the car, and the two are the ones who work on it the most. Williams’s grandfather is also around often, as is his mom. Williams’s brother is in the Air Force, but when he’s in town he’s also at the track.
Williams had help getting on the track this year from sponsors Dalton Direct Carpets, Hy-Tec Specialty Coatings, and Wheel Chill Race Performance Engineering.
Not only is racing a family deal for the Williams, they’ve also found a new family at the track.
"I just love that rush. When you get in the car that’s all you think about it racing," he said. "You don’t think about anything else. Plus I made all my friends through racing. You go to the track, you need something, even if you don’t really like him, the guy next door, he’ll give you a tool or something. Everybody is just helpful. They understand.
"My crew that comes to the track, I like them like family too."