NTERVIEW BY MARY LENDZION
PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE FSC STAFF
Back in the 1990s, Matt Williams was around a lot of Mustangs near his home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey. He admired and appreciated everything about them, from the way they looked to the way they sounded. He told himself that he would get one someday soon, and he did.
It was a 1985 Mustang GT that he thought was the quickest and fastest thing around at the time, and he followed that with a 1990 Mustang. After doing some street racing, Williams dove into racing at the drag strip. He has since competed in another 1985 Mustang and 2003 Mustang Mach I in the NMRA.
He ran in Richmond Gear Factory Stock from 2010-2014, spent time in Coyote Stock through 2017, and sampled Whatever It Takes Transmission Parts Limited Street from 2018-2020 before returning home to Richmond Gear Factory Stock in 2021.
Through dedication and determination, he learned how to win in the high-winding, wheels-up category, and he just wrapped up a second-place finish in 2023 points after running as quick and fast as 10.10 and 132 mph and earning wins at the NMRA races at Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina and Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio in his 2003 Mustang Mach 1.
When Williams is not at the races, he spends time with his family, including his wife of 15 years, Marissa, and their children, Derek, 10, and Carina, 7. They live in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and Derek plays basketball and baseball, while Carina takes part in gymnastics, and both are involved in flag football. Williams, who played baseball in college and continues to play flag football, coaches several of their teams.
Read on for more about Williams, who owns Coastal Refrigeration in Freehold, New Jersey. He is already planning for the 2024 NMRA race season, and we should pay attention when he pulls up to the beams.
WHAT WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY EXPOSURE TO CARS?
While I was growing up in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, I got into the Mustang scene in the late 1990s. The area was known for having a lot of them, and I loved seeing all of them on the street. I started going to Englishtown to watch racing on the strip. In addition to watching, I learned a lot and I made some friends. I liked pretty much any car that was fast, but I definitely gravitated toward Mustangs.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MUSCLE CAR?
It was a 1985 Mustang GT that I bought in 1997. I wrecked it shortly after. I bought a 1990 Mustang in 2002. I drove it on the street and took it to the track around 2004-2005, where I found out it was actually slow. It had a 306 cubic-inch engine with heads, cam, intake, Powerdyne supercharger, and T-5 transmission. I did the modifications on it, and I will never forget the time I grenaded the clutch at the track, got stuck there, and vowed never to go back to the track without a trailer. We pushed the car onto the main street near the track and waited six hours for AAA to come.
WHEN DID YOU CONSIDER NMRA RACING?
That was when the series came to Atco, probably around 2006 or 2007, and it was around that time that Kenny Cook, who raced in NMRA Factory Stock, suggested that I take a look at the class and the rules and consider running it. I bought a trailer from him, and I studied the rules. Then I started to pay attention to the combinations and how the cars were running, and I talked with other racers, including Jay Dold. I decided that I would try it, even though I was definitely nervous because I was not in the hardcore circle of racers and engine builders.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO COMMIT TO NMRA RACING?
That was in 2010 at the NMRA race in Columbus, Ohio, and I had prepared a 1985 Mustang for Factory Stock. I was a lot slower than anyone else, and I was learning how to make the car work within the rule set. The other racers were great. They were willing to help each other get to where they needed to be, but you definitely still had to do your job as a racer on the starting line, mid-track, and finish line in order to have a chance at winning. These days, I’m running the 2003 Mustang, and I have the lone pushrod engine in the class.
WHAT COMPELS YOU TO CONTINUE USING THE PUSHROD COMBINATION WHEN FELLOW RACERS ARE USING COYOTE COMBINATIONS?
Honestly, I like being able to show that we can be competitive with it. While many others have gone the Coyote engine route, I like my pushrod engines, even though they might be considered dinosaurs by some people. I like making them go faster with less. I take pride in that, and it makes it more personally rewarding for me. I have a 306-cubic-inch engine on a short-block from Louis Sylvester Sr. and Jr. It has GT-40X X2 heads and a Holley SysteMax II intake. The engine is maintained by Ed Curtis of FlowTech Induction, and he does the cam and valve work. I use a G101A manual transmission from G-Force Transmissions.
WITH SOME RACERS IN RICHMOND GEAR FACTORY STOCK RELYING ON A MANUAL TRANSMISSION AND OTHERS RELYING ON AN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION, WHAT MAKES YOU REMAIN FAITHFUL TO YOUR MANUAL TRANSMISSION?
I think about half of us use an automatic and the other half of us use a manual transmission, and I have personally always been a stick-shift guy. I think I would personally be tempted to drink coffee and take a nap while going down-track if I had an automatic, so it wouldn’t be a good choice for me. I like to do the shifting. It helps me stay in tune with my car, and we have gotten pretty good with the clutch setup. We run SPEC and Black Magic clutches, and I like being able to make adjustments to them during race weekends, depending on the track and weather conditions. Racers with automatics are moving fast, but I want to shift. I have a few gear sets and transmissions, and we bring extras to the races in case we need them.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE COMPETITION AND HOW THE CARS ARE RUNNING IN RICHMOND GEAR FACTORY STOCK?
It is tough. The guys have their cars flying, especially those who have a lot of experience in the class. We were not the fastest in 2023, but we were definitely one of the most consistent, and we were where we needed to be on the tree and the shifts. I like where the class is at, though it is definitely tough to make it an even playing field because of the number of combinations. I like the competition. I have always liked competition, and I use the time it takes to drive to the races to clear my head so I can keep my head in the game once I arrive at the track.
YOU TRIED NMRA COYOTE STOCK AND NMRA WHATEVER IT TAKES TRANSMISSION PARTS LIMITED STREET, BUT CAME BACK TO RICHMOND GEAR FACTORY STOCK. WHAT MADE YOU DO SO?
That is my home, and where we have learned the most and have had the most success. I have gotten pretty good at making the car go down-track and get down-track in that class, but the racers in the class are a big part of it. We all have a good relationship, and we are all willing to help each other out. I like to be able to drop the clutch and shift in that class.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE UPS AND DOWNS YOU EXPERIENCED ON THE WAY TO YOUR IMPRESSIVE SECOND-PLACE FINISH IN 2023?
In Florida, we had engine, trans, and clutch issues, but things got better after that. We ran faster at every race, so we were pleased that the adjustments that we were making were working. We are big on looking at our data, taking that information, and applying it to our program. That helps us with adjustments to the suspension, clutch, and gearing in the transmission or rear end. Unfortunately, we hurt our engine in Kentucky. Valvetrain issues caught up with us at that race. I happened to be in the semifinal against Mike Bowen, and my car fell off a bunch. It wouldn’t rev past 7,000 rpm, and I knew something was wrong so I got out of the throttle. We frequently adjust rockers and change springs because we are revving them a lot higher than they were originally designed for, but that is what we have to do to keep up with the other combinations. We missed one race in 2023, but we are very happy with our second-place finish, and how the car was responding to what we were asking it to do.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING JOINING RICHMOND GEAR FACTORY STOCK?
I would tell them to come to the races, meet the racers, and ask them questions. They would be surprised by how much information the racers will share and they would be encouraged to join the class and welcomed once they did. They would definitely be pointed in the right direction. I would personally like to help people out and get them interested in the class so we get even more people to race.
DO YOU PLAN TO DO ANYTHING TO YOUR CAR OR COMBINATION OVER THE WINTER OF 2023-2024?
I plan to take my engine to Larry’s Auto Machine in Connecticut to have things fixed after the damage at the race in Bowling Green. My GT-40X2 heads were damaged because of the dropped valve, which hit a piston. I also will probably remove my current cage and replace it with an 8.50-certified chrome-moly cage, and I will do that myself.
WHO HELPS YOU WITH THIS PROVEN PROGRAM?
I have a lot of help from my crew chief, Chris Beningo, who goes to all of the races with me, as well as Ed Curtis, Brandon Decordre of Decordre Automotive, Scott Soberg, Louis Sylvester Sr. and Jr. I also have support from my family and many others.
(See this interview in the January 2024 issue of Fastest Street Car)