Unlike many of his fellow Northwest competitors, Blake Williams wears a plain black firesuit when he straps into a racecar. But it’s what Williams tends to wear below that suit that says the most about him.

A gray T-shirt that reads “Built Ford Tough”, it’s not an empty slogan or product placement that makes it a good luck charm for Williams, a 20-year-old Late Model racer from eastern Washington. It’s the story of how he’s still alive and why he’s still racing today.

Late on July 6, 2014, Williams was driving his pride and joy, a new Ford Ranger pickup truck, north of Spokane. A driver on a crossing street did not yield for a stop sign, leading to a full-speed T-Bone collision between the two cars.

“The impact plowed me all the way through the intersection,” explains Williams, “and then I started to roll three or four times. I had to get cut out of my truck and then get a Heart-Flight [helicopter evacuated] out of there and back to Spokane. I was awake for the whole thing. I was … definitely scared. I knew it was pretty bad.”

It was indeed bad and very nearly fatal. The force of the impact had very nearly snapped Williams’ neck. As it was, he was diagnosed by a doctor with a compression fracture in his C7 vertebrae, which is located right at the nape of the neck. The doctor at the hospital very candidly told Williams that if he hadn’t been in such a rigid and large pickup truck, he would likely have died right at the accident scene.

Williams' familiar late model back in action (Speed51.com photo)

Williams’ familiar late model back in action (Speed51.com photo)

The injury put an immediate end to Williams’ 2014 season, just as his career was starting to reach new heights. The 2011 ICAR Late Model Series champion, Williams’ last major race of 2013 saw him capture the prestigious Idaho 200 at State Line Speedway (ID). He and his team had raced sparingly early in 2014 to focus on finally winning the Montana 200 in Kalispell as well as defend his Idaho title.

“There was three long months of hard physical therapy instead. Had to wear a brace most all of autumn. But after a while I was able to go back to work. By the time I was pretty good and healed up, the race season was over. So I just stayed home most of winter and worked on getting better. My neck was still stiff for a long time, even after the brace came off.”

“I know it sounds kind of obvious, but having a near-death experience makes you look at life differently. More than anything, it made me realize how much I love racing. I couldn’t even stand going on the internet after a while because I didn’t want to see who won the big race that weekend or who was racing what.”

As soon as the brace went off though, the boxing gloves came out. Williams wasted little time returning to the front. His first race back was in the Apple Blossom at Wenatchee, where he finished a solid 9th. Then he led 41 laps before settling for second in the Galloway race at Evergreen Speedway in May.

His third race out, the Idaho Tune-Up at State Line, saw Williams go wire-to-wire and capture an emotional triumph.

“After a race, my neck still gets sore. It got really hot that day too, so everyone was tired. But that night – I don’t know if I’ve ever felt any better.”

Williams also made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut at State Line this month and finished a very impressive 5th. He hopes that it will open the door to run a race or two with the team later this year, but for now the focus is all on the Idaho 200 this weekend.

Speed51.com Powered by JEGS will have live Trackside Now coverage this weekend from State Line for both the Friday practice day as well as Saturday’s 16th annual running of Idaho’s biggest late model race.

— Story & Photo by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn

 

Broken Neck Only Strengthens Williams Will to Win