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From race cars to hot rods

A business owner’s journey from NASCAR to classic cars

Posted: July 20, 2008 12:57 a.m.
Updated: September 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Roy Williams stands in his Newhall home's garage which was turned into his car shop.

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A Korean War jeep is parked in Newhall resident Roy Williams’ backyard. It doesn’t belong to him.

Neither does the 1967 Studebaker Avanti that needs a new motor, nor the 1962 Corvette that is undergoing complete restoration.

“I have work, in reality, probably for the next seven or eight years,” said Williams, 50, who builds hot-rods and restores classic cars through his five-year-old home business RW Motorsports.

Williams is no rookie when it comes to automobiles, and that’s what keeps the customers coming.

As a former NASCAR builder, Williams knows more than just the nuts and bolts. He builds engines, as well as fabricates parts and welds, a few skills his clients say are hard to find in the common mechanic.

Williams not only works on classic cars, but on motorcycles as well. His work even extends to rarer projects, such as an early-1900s single-cylinder diesel engine he is working on for a client’s boat — he plans to get it running on alternative fuel sources, such as vegetable and fish oil, and add some modern electrical features.

“He’s kind of just like a master of all trades,” said Andre Veluzat, owner of Veluzat Motion Picture Rentals, a Newhall business that rents out military equipment to film production companies. Veluzat, who has known Williams for more than 20 years, recently hired Williams to drive, repair and fabricate parts for five original World War II army tanks for a movie set.

Business acquaintances and clients say it is Williams’ experience of working on NASCAR crews that made him so automobile-savvy. 

“Hands on is the best experience,” said George Anglin, who used to build racecars with Williams for a NASCAR team called Spears Motorsports. Anglin now works for Williams doing paint and body work in the home business. “We’ve both been very fortunate to be around a lot of people who know a lot of stuff,” he said.

According to Williams, his interest in racing and auto repair started at an early age. He grew up on a ranch in Newhall where his mother raised Appaloosa show horses and other animals for the film industry. When Williams’ mother went to drop off a horse she sold to former NASCAR driver Ranny Dodd who lived in Newhall, Williams went along for the ride.

It was the early 1970s and Williams was a young teenager at the time. He caught a glimpse of Dodd’s 1969 Chevy Chevelle racecar in the garage, and at that moment, he was sold on racing.

“As soon as I got into the car, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Williams, who already had an interest in the sport since his uncle used to take him to the Saugus Speedway. “It’s the races, the sound, the smell, and the competitiveness.”

From there, the two formed a relationship. Dodd took Williams to races at Saugus Speedway and other race tracks, and he even let Williams help him work on his racecars when he got a little older.

“I started sorting nuts and bolts,” said Williams, who remembers helping Dodd starting around the age of 15 or 16. “I had to start out on the very, very bottom—clean parts, sweep the floor … and then it just progressively went from there.”

Dodd said Williams was mechanically inclined and an eager apprentice.

“He was just a young boy trying to do whatever he could to learn,” said Dodd. “He did whatever I asked him to.”

As soon as Williams graduated from Hart High School, he started doing his own racing at Saugus Speedway, driving a 1967 Chevy Chevelle. He supported his racing by working at local radiator and auto repair shops, he said.

However, a couple of years into racing, Williams realized his dream was too big for his pocketbook. While he later went on to race go-karts, Williams decided to focus his career on building and fixing race cars. He worked as a mechanic where he could, and he often got to do work for local racers.

When a new NASCAR Craftsman Series team started in the area, Williams jumped at the opportunity. The team was owned by Agua Dulce resident Wayne Spears, owner of Sylmar-based Spears Manufacturing Co. and owner of an already-existing NASCAR team called Spears Motorsports.

“Spears was the only real race car thing that there was here. They were doing a big-budget operation, and everybody in town tried to get in there, and it was really hard,” Williams said. “I think that I tried for three years. I called that guy … once a week, every week.”

Williams said that his persistence landed him the job based in Agua Dulce, working on the new team’s No. 75 racecar and trucks. He started with small tasks, but quickly became a mechanic and fabricator. When the team moved to North Carolina, he moved with it.

The experience is one Williams says he “wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.” Not only did he get the chance to build for NASCAR circuits, but he also got to travel the country and, most importantly, learn.

“Working with those people, they are really smart. So, when they teach you something, there’s nobody any better,” Williams said. “I got to learn from the best people in the United States.”

However, the cold weather and homesickness got to Williams, sending him back to California in 2000. He worked with another NASCAR team in Sacramento but then moved back to Newhall in 2003 to care for his mother after his father died of cancer. That was when Williams decided to start his own business.

“I didn’t want to be a mechanic in town… and, there was really no call here for somebody with my skills,” Williams said.

RW Motorsports began after Williams’ mother connected him with a neighbor who wanted a hot-rod built.

After completing that project and building someone else a classic Mustang, Williams decided to make some business cards.

Soon the word spread and William’s few projects turned into a waiting list. Classic car owners in the area came to appreciate Williams’ workmanship and expertise.

“Roy has a different flair to his mechanics. He’s more intricate as far as fabricating and design,” said Ned LaGrotta, of Canyon Country, who said Williams did some mechanical work and built parts for his 1968 Dodge Dart GT convertible. “When I met him, I could instantly see that he had some real knowledge about his craft, which is pretty evident in the way he works.”

Williams considers working at home a breath of fresh air. Although Williams said he enjoyed working on NASCAR crews, he also said it is nice to slow down after a life in the fast-lane of automotive work.

Now Williams, who was married in October, is able to work at a more relaxing pace. He does more long-term projects, considering that his clients usually cannot pay for complete restorations upfront. The slow-down, Williams said, also gives him some time to work on his own hot-rod — a 1965 Mustang Fastback, which he hopes to complete in the next year.

“When we open up the shop in the morning, it’s just a couple of guys kind of hanging out in the garage,” Williams said. “It’s like very little pressure and I want to keep it that way.”

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