It was only one week into the popular and highly competitive eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, and Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott knew he wanted a high-tech, high-performance sim-racing rig.
Fortunately for Elliott — and many others — Hendrick fabricator Corey Williams is producing exactly that kind of next-level simulator during the current downtime in the racing world. Elliott‘s rig was delivered last week just in time for the iRacing event at virtual Texas Motor Speedway, and with some solid time under his belt to get acclimated to the system now, Elliott should be in fine form for Sunday‘s Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX, FS1, FOXSports App).
“It‘s kind of crazy to think this is where all the NASCAR guys have been sitting these past couple weeks,” Elliott said. “But it‘s a tool that not a lot of people have and we‘re lucky to have something like it to keep racing.”
It‘s exactly the kind of positive feedback that should keep Williams, a former late-model racer turned Hendrick Motorsports fabricator, busy in the near future as iRacing galvanizes the auto-racing industry that would be otherwise parked during this COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Williams, 34, started the Williams Custom Fabricators business more than a decade ago from his native Maine to eventually North Carolina, using the outlet to keep busy, make money and stay challenged after a successful career racing go-karts, legends cars and super-late models. The expense of driving pushed Williams to apply his mechanical skills in order to stay in the sport. He was hired as a fabricator by the championship Hendrick Motorsports team in 2009 and currently works specifically on the team‘s superspeedway cars, which have won the Daytona 500 pole position for five of the last six years.
“When my racing started slowing down, I still had to find an avenue to really get that competitiveness out of my system,” Williams said. “So I got into iRacing, and as soon as I got home with a wheel and pedals and kind of was at my desk racing, I started seeing some issues with things moving around and pedals sliding around. I just became quickly frustrated with that, so I‘m like ‘There‘s got to be a better way.’
“So I went to work, brought my wheel and pedals in there and I just started kind of working away. I built a little rig and brought it home and took some pictures of it, and threw it up on the iRacing hardware forum and just began getting a lot of messages asking if I sold it, or would build it for other people. And I was like, ‘Yeah.\"”
One of the first major race names to seek out a Williams design was the late John Andretti, who purchased a sim for his son, Jarett, a decade ago.
“That was pretty cool to sell one to him,” Williams said. “I went over and set it up at his house, and I have a picture on my (Facebook) page of John in the simulator trying to get his son set up in it. That was probably the first real big name I‘d say I made one for.”
Williams‘ work was well received, and he stayed busy, enjoying the extra opportunities until making the decision to take a break from the sim construction when he started a family. He thinks a 2009 photo of his then-infant daughter, Macie, in a sim he designed was one of the last he made before starting a self-induced sabbatical.
But Macie, now 10, and her brother, Corey Jr., 9, are older, and Williams has even found ways to let them be a part of his recently reinvigorated business. Since last fall, Williams has been making new sim rigs. And now with the hold on on-track activity, the demand for them is booming — from high-profile clients to next-door neighbors.
“It‘s kind of funny because the last one I built was when I first started at HMS and I remember I had to go and ask permission to build it, but it was for Roush Racing,” Williams said. “I built one for them and that was the last one I‘d done. I didn‘t know if iRacing would continue to grow like it was. I kind of thought it may be a quick little fad. Just recently, I realized it‘s picking up speed so I was like, I need to get back in.”
Williams estimates it takes about a day to produce one of his high-quality customized sim rigs while working at home — with Macie and Corey Jr. occasionally helping out to make sure the assembly is spot-on.
“It‘s pretty funny,” Williams said. “I have a two-car garage, and my vision when I came back to this in October was I would clean everything out and put it in storage, but instead, I just ordered tools. I had tools delivered in two weeks and by that time had designs in my head. As soon as the tools showed up, we plugged them in and started throwing sparks.
“I‘m trying to keep my simulators the same, but I also want to create a place where people can come and a la carte say, ‘I want this set-up with this wheel and pedal. I want that keyboard tray, but I don‘t want that shifter mount.’ So I‘m just building them to what the customer requests. That‘s what I‘m trying to keep it at.”
As more racing series choose the iRacing option, Williams’ business looks to accelerate.
“It‘s just crazy how this whole thing went,” he said. “I got back into it and was kind of just building at night and on the weekend. With everything shut down, I really have nothing left to do right now except try to focus on this and that‘s what I‘ve done.
“Between everyone having to be home and cooped up, it‘s just exploded, and I‘m looking forward to it.”