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Race, Rescue, Repeat—Bryan Williams found his calling driving the Wheelybird in LME Street King

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Written by Ainsley Jacobs

Photography by Rudy Rouweyha

Some people are lucky enough to be born into motorsports families, and some find their passion later in life. No matter when a driver’s career starts, it’s something to be taken seriously and with full-throttle determination. Bryan Williams was one of the latter, as a friend and NMCA driver was responsible for recruiting him into racing, and he’s quickly made up for lost time.

Growing up on a farm in Texas as the son of a fireman, Williams, now 53, always had an interest in cars, but “didn’t have the money to build a hot rod of any kind,” as a teenager. Ultimately, he settled for a two-door, hardtop ’66 Chevy Impala with a 283ci engine and a Powerglide as his first car.

“It was the closest I could get at 16 years old, and I could only do so much with a land yacht like that,” he laughed.

Williams went on to join the fire department, and also worked as a paramedic. Eventually, he started a construction company and cabinet shop that kept him busy for nearly 20 years. He had remained a part of his local fire department over the years, and his experiences there made him realize there was a need to train others on how to get people out of cars when they’ve wrecked and have been trapped.

“That was almost 20 years ago that I started teaching extrication training. I got involved with a company in Wisconsin called TNT Rescue that manufactured hydraulic rescue equipment,” he added.

Around 2006, the chronic entrepreneur sold off his construction and cabinetry entities to start another venture—Advanced Rescue Systems. During his work with TNT Rescue, Williams had made important industry connections and opted to share his knowledge and expertise in extrication with fire departments in Texas.

His business was doing well, and Williams was finally at the point in his life where he had both the time and the money to be able to go racing. Racer Kevin Lumsden moved in a few miles away from Williams in his hometown of Caddo Mills, and the two became fast friends.

“We had similar interests, and he was into racing, which sparked my interest again,” explained Williams of the friend that turned his life around. “I’m not a mechanic, but Kevin took me under his wing and helped me build a ’69 Camaro with an old-school, 502ci big-block engine and a Turbo 400 transmission with a transbrake.”

Eventually, though, Lumsden dropped the news on Williams that if he wanted to be more competitive, he might have better luck with another platform.

“He said he would like to see me in an F-body, like he had, so we got to looking and found the car that I still race right now,” Williams added, whose search began in late 2010.

A friend, David Whitten, found a hardtop ’99 Pontiac Firebird Formula in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and told Williams he needed to see it.

“So, Kevin and I called the seller and told him we would take it,” he said of the one-owner, low-mileage, virgin car. Lumsden grabbed a trailer and the two headed out to Tulsa to pull the trigger on the pristine Pontiac that same day. Its owner was proud of his piece, having never driven it in bad weather and having babied it throughout his time with it.

“I bought it without even driving it, and the guy’s smile turned into a frown. He said ‘tell me you aren’t gonna make a race car out of it!’ and I said ‘yes, but it will be nice with a full interior,’ and he agreed so long as I didn’t tear it up.”

Williams and Lumsden quickly got to work on their new project, and completely gutted it at Lumsden’s shop. The interior came out, excess weight was stripped, everything was pulled from under the dash, and all that was left was a shell and a shadow.

“We even took the carpet backing off, which was Kevin’s idea and I never would have thought of on my own,” continued Williams, who also added a 10-second-legal, bolt-in roll cage from Wolfe Race Craft.

Once the Pontiac was pieced back together, Williams began learning how to really race. Running in the low-10-second zone at first was OK, but it wasn’t enough for what he wanted. Small changes and tweaks were implemented, and soon it was a high-9-second car.

Williams’s first race with his new fast Firebird was the Thanksgiving Bracket Nationals at the now-defunct Dallas Raceway in November of 2011. From there, he dabbled locally until making his NMCA and his Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series debut the following season in 2012.

Racing in NMCA Proform LSX Rumble, Williams got his feet wet at one race and enjoyed it so much he returned for the 2013 LSX Rumble season as well. Incredibly, he did so well that year that he wound up finishing fourth overall in the championship standings in the massive group of 125 eligible racers.

“Other than 2013, I haven’t done all that great, to be honest,” Williams shared candidly and humbly. When his wife, Cara, was diagnosed with Celiac disease, he chose to focus on her health and made their marriage a priority.

Although he did step back some from racing, Williams still got his fix when he could. He had his Firebird updated with an 8.50-second certified roll cage by Mike Brink at Brink Racecraft, although he was still keeping it around a 10.00 index, and had Brink install a fuel cell and a set of wheelie bars since the car (aptly nicknamed “Wheelybird”) likes to leave hard and go straight up.

Williams ranked 16th in Rumble in 2014, then switched to NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp in 2015 where he finished 39th and improved to 18th for 2016’s Open Comp season. He also ran in LME Street King that same season, ultimately ending the year in sixth. Williams then set a new personal best when he went 9.514 at 138.71 mph in the quarter-mile during testing at Thunder Road Raceway Park in Louisiana while getting his NHRA certification license.

For his 2017 Street King season, Williams spent just about the whole year tied with Kurt Anderson. The two went neck-and-neck in points until the final race in Indianapolis, where the two tried their best to stay apart during the eliminations parings so that they could secure the top two spots.

“Well, that didn’t happen,” laughed Williams, who was paired with Anderson in the first match up. “He beat me, so that put me out early, and Taylor Lumsden, Kevin’s son, stayed in long enough to pass me for second.” Williams wound up third, but holds no grudges, as he has a tremendous respect for all the drivers in his category and enjoys the tight competition.

Over the years, ol’ Wheelybird’s combination continued to evolve. Presently, Williams’ Pontiac utilizes an LS2 block-based, 410-cube Machine Works Racing Engines bullet with a Callies DragonSlayer crankshaft and lightweight Diamond pistons. “I have a 92mm FAST throttle body that made more torque than a 102mm, so I’m running the smaller throttle body on the larger intake. It’s kind of a crazy combination, but it works and the car likes it,” he detailed of his LME Street King setup.

Williams turned to old school Stock/Super Stock racer Jim Cimarolli to build a transmission for this combination.

“He builds an excellent transmission, and I run a Turbo 350 in this car that has kept me going for years,” Williams shared, who also runs a Coan Engineering torque converter.

The F-body’s suspension is a fairly straightforward setup, with BMR components up front, and a Spohn Performance long torque arm planting a Strange 12-bolt rearend.

“With the car being a unibody, of course, I’ve added extra bars and had everything welded together,” he continued of the simple style. “It’s important that we’re able to do wheel stands—we’re not showing off, it’s just that these cars like to have all the weight on the rear tire when they leave—so I’ve got it set to where I can do that.”

Sticking to the minimalistic theme, Williams has standard Mickey Thompson front runner tire at the nose of the ‘Bird, while a set of drag radial rubbers reside out back, all wrapped around a set of shiny Bogart Racing Wheels.

“I used to run a slick, but switched to the radial. It’s less forgiving, and, if you spin off the line, you’re done, but I liked them more after I got used to them,” he detailed of the change made around the same time the upgraded roll cage was installed a few years back.

During the off-season between 2017 and 2018, Williams made the switch from his old factory computer to a Holley Dominator electronic fuel-injection system.

“It’s a great system, but it was different and I didn’t know it, so the 2018 season was a bit of a learning curve for me,” shared Williams, who had to spend time gathering and interpreting the data before he was able to extrapolate and make correlations. Fighting the tune-up all year long, Williams finally enlisted the help of Sam Miller of Advanced Modern Performance and got things straightened out. “We didn’t touch it after that, it’s been so consistent.”

With the changes finally moving him in the right direction, Williams was back up near the top of the pack in 2018’s points. Finishing in fifth overall in LME Street King was a highlight of his career. This season, however, he’s in the lead and is holding strong in the number-one spot for 2019 with a good chunk of the season left to go.

At the first Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series race of the year in Georgia at the 11th Annual SDPC NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals presented by MAHLE in April, Williams went 10.035 on his 10.00 index to qualify third for the LME Street King class. Going on to eliminations, Williams was on point in round one when he ran a 10.002 to take down Jeff Brady in the first pairing, then went 10.030 over Jenna Pierce-Wilson in round two. A bye in the semifinals allowed Williams some wiggle room to fine-tune his combination, and he pushed it to a 9.986-second trip.

 

“The final was at night, and I saw the glow of Ricky Pennington’s light since he left first and I flinched and went red,” confessed Williams, who gave up the win by 0.117-seconds and earned a respectful runner-up title instead.

The next event in the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series was held in Tennessee during the Inaugural COMP Cams NMCA Memphis Homecoming featuring the 13th Annual Chevrolet Performance LSX Shootout, and Williams wanted redemption.

Williams had gotten quite adept at interpreting his weather station’s readouts and using them to determine the weight and timing adjustments he needs to make to slow down or speed up his Firebird. Running nearly perfect on his 10-second goal, Williams’s 10.004-second performance during LME Street King qualifying put him at the top of the list.

“I drew Ricky Pennington again for the first round, and we had a great race—he’s a heck of a good driver,” proclaimed Williams, whose 10.029 at 130.53mph blast was a winning one. In round two, Williams was paired with Taylor Lumsden. “We had both been using my weather station trying to get our cars as close to the money as we could, and I really truly thought I had my car dialed to run 10.003 but the weather changed just enough and I went 9.997. I was ahead by a half a car the whole track and didn’t let out at the end because I had faith in my car, but it wound up going three under instead of three over.”

Not racing to lose, Williams knows there’s still plenty of opportunity—and plenty of different weather conditions to face—as the last three CPCS races of the year shake out. He intends to hang on to his lead, but knows a countless number of variables, and plenty of other racers, are all working to thwart his plans.

The appeal of index racing keeps him coming back, mostly because of how complex it can be.

“You’ve got to run your index without going under, be good on the tree, and know your car,” elaborated Williams, who has to take multiple factors into consideration when making adjustments to his Firebird. “It’s about accuracy, consistency, and predictability. I love heads-up racing, but I but don’t have the kind of funds to be competitive there, so index racing allows me to travel the country with NMCA and keep it affordable, while still being a huge challenge.” While heads-up may have a thrill, there’s just as much validation using brains to run well as there is using budget.

Similarly, Williams also enjoys the challenge of running a naturally aspirated engine—and the patience required to do so.

“I think power adders are really cool, but I’m impressed when a motor can run 9.50 on its own. I can run my car like this and go a whole season just doing an oil change here and there, and putting tires on it. Sometimes I don’t even have to take it out of the trailer between races!” he confessed. The all motor-style fits Williams needs for the time being, and allows him to put his Pontiac on the back burner between events when work and life gets his focus.

“I really have to give the majority of the credit with this car to Kevin [Lumsden] because he was the brains behind the build—not me,” laughed Williams, who wouldn’t have his Firebird at all if it weren’t for his friend. “A lot of good people have time and effort in this car to make it what it is, and I appreciate the help and support of everyone in my NMCA family.”

Unsurprisingly, Williams biggest fans are his actual family—namely, his daughters Carli and Cayla along with his wife, Cara. The girls have even shown an interest in racing on their own, as Carli had quite a successful year in the junior dragster ranks before she grew up, went to college, got married, and gave Williams his first grandbaby, Callie.

Looking ahead, it’s the camaraderie of the classes and the authenticity of the attendees that keep Williams coming back, race after race. He loves nothing more than being at the track with his friends, making a few hits, and enjoying the good times in life. Even if he never wins a championship, though, Williams still made a huge impact on the racing community in general and solidified his name as a tremendously respected one thanks to his hard work to make a difference in the safety of his fellow racers.

Advancing Safety

Based in Caddo Mills, Texas, Advanced Rescue Systems outfits fire departments with hydraulic rescue tools, vehicle lifting and stabilization equipment, and carries a complete line of attachments and accessories needed to resolve virtually any rescue scenario.

As a licensed government contractor, ARS’ systems are designed for stabilization and engineered to work even in the most complex and dangerous extrication situations. Custom-built fire trucks and the company’s flagship line of hydraulic rescue equipment and tools have made ARS a leader in safety standards. Advanced Rescue Systems also proudly offers training services to teach end-users the proper — and safe — way to utilize rescue equipment while also operating a maintenance and service department and factory authorized warranty center for all of its product lines.

Thanks to Williams’ longstanding involvement with the NMCA and his relationship with TNT Rescue, the company was named the Official Safety Equipment supplier of the NMRA/NMCA in 2018. TNT’s extraction and heavy-duty tools were integrated into the series’ Safety Teams, and a dedicated Ford F-350 Super Duty safety truck was outfitted with the latest in motorsports-specific fire and rescue gear. Innovative 28-volt battery-operated hydraulic rescue equipment including a cutter, a ram, a spreader, and a combi tool, were also added to the truck, which carries a fire suppression tank, hose, and reel from Total Venue Concepts as well. When critical seconds matter, racers can feel safe knowing that they are backed by the most advanced safety and rescue equipment available with expertly trained operators ready to jump into action.

The Details

Owner/Driver

Owner: Bryan Williams

Driver: Bryan Williams

Hometown: Caddo Mills, Texas

Occupation: Self-employed

Class: LME Street King

Car Make/Model/Year: ’99 Pontiac Formula Firebird

Powertrain

Engine: LS2

Engine builder: Machine Works – Mike Malone

Displacement: 410 cubic inches

Block:            LS2

Bore: 4.040-inch

Stroke: 4-inch

Crank: Callies DragonSlayer

Rods: Callies

Pistons: Diamond

Heads: GM 243 LS2, TEA ported

Valvetrain: Stock rockers with trunnion upgrade

Cam type: Hydraulic roller

Carburetor or EFI system: FAST

Power-adder: None

Fuel brand and type: VP MS109

Headers and exhaust: Kooks

Transmission: Turbo 350

Transmission Builder: Jim Cimarolli

Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Coan Engineering

Rearend: Strange Engineering 12-bolt

Chassis

Body and/or chassis builder:

Suspension (Front):           BMR

Suspension (Rear): Spohn

Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering

Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering

Wheels (front): Bogart

Wheels (Rear): Bogart

Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson

Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson

Safety equipment: NHRA 8.50 cage, fuel cell, Ultra bell on trans

Vehicle weight: 2,930 pounds

Quickest ET:  9.514 seconds

Best 60-foot: 1.257 seconds

Fastest mph: 138.71

 


Ainsley Jacobs
Ainsley Jacobs
P.TEN Marketing's Ainsley Jacobs is a freelance motorsports marketing professional with extensive experience in marketing and communications, website development, social media management, photography, journalism, and more.
http://www.PTENmarketing.com
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