Bakersfield Drag Racing Legend Jack Williams Passes Away Bakersfield, CA - Jack Williams, Goodguys National Advertising Director, President of Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, former NHRA Top Fuel Champion, great friend to thousands...
Bakersfield Drag Racing Legend Jack Williams Passes Away
Bakersfield, CA - Jack Williams, Goodguys National Advertising Director, President of Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, former NHRA Top Fuel Champion, great friend to thousands and former lover to hundreds, was found dead in his home Tuesday, February 7th. He was 69 years old. He spent the last few days of his life at Disneyland in Anaheim, California -- one of Jack's favorite places on earth. It appears he died of natural causes but the official cause of death is not yet known pending an autopsy.
Jack came to Goodguys in the fall of 1993. With his wealth of industry experience and knowledge as well as his days as a drag racer, Jack was a natural leader at Goodguys in his role as National Advertising Director and Sponsorship Sales. He brought a lot of clout to the table. Leaning on his vast racing experiences and relationships, he also played an instrumental role in the formative years of the Goodguys Vintage Drag Racing Association and was a key player in the resurrection of the "March Meet" -- his favorite drag racing event of all time.
Jack was a native son of Bakersfield. He was born in 1936 and spent his entire youth, teenage years and early 20s there. Williams discovered drag racing in the late 50s. He raced gas-powered dragsters around California's central valley in the early 60s. It was also in the early 60s he joined the world famous Smoker's Car Club -- a group who he remained close to his entire life. In 1963, fellow Smoker's members Bill Crossley and Don Swan partnered with Jack to field the Crossley, Williams & Swan AA/FD -- a team that would soon prove to be darn near unbeatable. After a year of racing together, the team won everything in sight. Together they won top fuel eliminator at the 1964 NHRA Winternationals sparking a winning streak that lasted most of the calendar year. The team took down another big win in June of '64 when they won top fuel (beating "The Snake") at the Hot Rod Magazine Championships at Riverside and rode East on their momentum, taking in many local races along the way. Their whirlwind tour wound up at the NHRA Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park where Jack outlasted everyone except for Big Daddy Don Garlits. In one of history's closest final round matchups, Garlits beat Williams by a whisker -- the race producing a lifetime bond between the two and an equally good natured life long debate about who really won. Williams' driving career ended in a fiery blaze, when in 1965 at Irwindale Raceway he suffered a major engine failure behind the wheel of the Warren & Crowe chute-pack metal flake gold dragster. He was badly burned in the fire, and announced that was "The End." He never drove a race car again.
He went to New York's Long Island where he assisted Gil Kohn in constructing New York National Speedway in the late 60s before taking a job as ad salesman at Doris Herbert's Drag News. In 1969 he co-promoted the March Meet with old Smoker's friends Ernie Hashim and Milt Weller. In later years he partnered with his dear friend Marvin Miller and together the tandem ran Famoso for most of the 1970s. Jack went on to operate Fremont Raceway in Northern California. In 1983 he purchased Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California. He brought numerous major sponsors to the race track including Ford Motor Company and Camel cigarettes.
Jack spent the last 13 years of his life employed at Goodguys. In 1995, he returned home to Bakersfield where he once again took over the lease and management of Famoso Raceway -- a move that pleased NHRA Founder Wally Parks to no end. Jack did more than an admirable job sustaining his ad sales duties with Goodguys while maintaining the heritage of historic Famoso Raceway along with his team of John and Blake Bowser and Elaina Curtis. He recently brought on the Auto Club of Southern California as the title sponsor of his beloved racetrack.
Jack enjoyed being back in Bakersfield so much. He enjoyed going to watch the Bakersfield Condor's hockey team with his son Kent and granddaughter Jordon. His sister Arlene came by for a visit once a week. He and his daughter Lori Jean loved attending the NHRA National events at Pomona where he'd reunite with old drag racing friends like Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Dick LaHaie, and his closest former racing friend Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen who he regularly spoke to and visited frequently.
Jack was happiest when he was with friends and family, usually eating! He loved to reminisce, he loved to laugh and he loved to talk about big boobs. Maybe his heart gave out on him because it was overused by giving to others. He was always helping out others in so many ways.
It's hard to believe our friend Jack is gone. There will never, ever be another like Jack Arley Williams. Some of today's younger vintage drag racers would see Jack out on the starting line, shouting orders and keeping things running smoothly when the fuel cars were on the pad. Many would ask "Who is that dude?" Simply put, "That dude" was a national top fuel champion, and a man who had forgotten more about drag racing and event promotion than many of us will ever know. One of his favorite sayings was "I'd rather be a has been than a never was!"
A memorial service and celebration of Jack's life will be held at the Goodguys 47th March Meet this spring at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.