PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — To say the last week has been emotional for NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Josh Williams would be a vast understatement.
Williams secured his career-best finish of sixth in last Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.
The 27-year-old took fresh tires during a late-race caution period at the 1.5-mile Kansas City oval and charged through traffic in the closing laps, knocking on the door of a top-five finish in the No. 92 DGM Racing Chevrolet Camaro.
Considering Williams outran five playoff drivers in the event, the night was a major success at a track that he’s never particularly regarded as one of his favorites.
“Kansas was never really high on my list (prior to Saturday),” Williams admitted. “I’ve always liked going there and we’d run a lot of laps there in the ARCA (Menards Series) car with it being the season finale for those guys, but it had just never been really good to me since I’d been in the Xfinity Series. Having the experience that I do there certainly helps, but it’s never been one of my favorites because I’m not a big cookie-cutter (track) kind of guy.
“Saturday night was good, though. We knew at the end when that last caution came out that we had a set of tires and could try something different and it all worked out in our favor,” he added. “We passed some guys that some people say we shouldn’t have been up there with but we’re making noise now. They know we’re here and we’re not planning on going away because we’ve got a lot more to prove.”
Saturday marked Williams’ fifth top-10 finish of the season, the best year-to-date total in his Xfinity Series tenure and tied for the most by a DGM Racing driver in team history.
A career-best result on paper was only half the story, however.
Williams and his crew were also processing the tragic loss of Tim Hayes, a longtime fixture in the Josh Williams Motorsports shop who spent several years aiding Williams in the growth of his driver development program — specifically in Legend Car and Bandolero racing.
Hayes passed away Friday, roughly 24 hours before the Kansas Xfinity race in which Williams posted his best NASCAR finish to date.
Williams confirmed Hayes’ death in a statement posted to social media Monday, noting that “it’ll never be quite the same around our shop” without Hayes around it.
“When we lost Tim last week, I lost a best friend and someone that I would consider a brother,” Williams said. “We spent pretty much every day together; he was a full-time employee for JWM and an amazing person and father. A lot of things affected his life over the last five years but he seemed to be riding the highest of highs now. I met Tim two years ago at a gas station and invited him to a race at Daytona (Int’l Speedway), and from that point on he instantly became part of the JWM family.
“Everyone Tim came into contact with loved him and he always brought light to any situation. Making people laugh was his specialty and we couldn’t go 30 minutes in the shop without him cracking some jokes or giving us a hard time for not putting things back where they needed to be,” Williams added. “It won’t be the same without listening to him tell jokes and not having him talking crap to one of the guys.
“I know he’s not in pain anymore, though. I’m sure of that.”
After the checkered flag at Kansas, NASCAR on NBC pit reporter Parker Kligerman posted a photo of Williams with his head bowed against his race car to social media and it quickly went viral.
At the time, however, no one knew just how much meaning was in that simple, but powerful image.
“That was all the emotion hitting me all at once,” Williams admitted. “That was finishing sixth, which we’d never been that high before, it was thinking about Tim … just everything all came together all at once and I had to take a minute to let it all sink in. It was a lot for all of us but we rallied together.
“That photo Parker took had so much more meaning than he knew at that point. It still does.”
Given the recent rise in conversation around the topics of depression, anxiety and mental health in the racing community as of late, Williams hopes to not only dedicate his final three Xfinity Series races this season to Hayes’ memory, but he aims to help end the stigma surrounding mental health and use his platform as a potential difference-maker for those who are going through silent battles in their lives.
“Listen, there are a lot of people going through a lot of things in life that we don’t even realize sometimes and it’s not something that should be brushed under the rug,” Williams said. “If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out to someone and talk to someone about what’s going on in your mind. There’s love and caring people out there, no matter how bad things might look.
“Nothing can bring Tim back, but I hope that this message — our team’s message — can help save someone else’s life. We’re going to be racing the rest of this season to make Tim proud and keep digging, just like he would have wanted us to do. We’re definitely going to miss him, though.”
Williams will hit the track Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, the 31st of 33 races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season. He finished 14th in both Texas races last year.
Race coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC, the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.