Shelby Williams isn't what one would call a procrastinator, and the second-generation drag racer found a car with similar attributes. The 21-year-old claimed her first Stock eliminator win in only her second national event and earned her first division trophy a year later driving a '70 Camaro with a history of good fortune. Entering her third year as an NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitor, Williams is aiming to build on the early success.
Growing up, Williams spent a lot of time at the racetrack with her dad, multi-category winner, four-time division champion, and 2018 Super Comp world champion Steve Williams. The younger Williams dabbled in Jr. drag racing, but she also raced karts and played softball. It wasn't until she was 16 that a switch flipped, and she realized that drag racing was calling for her.
"We were at Sonoma Raceway, and the Stock eliminator cars caught her eye," recalled her father, who most often has raced in Super Gas or Super Comp. "She said, 'If I had an opportunity to drive a car like a Stocker, I think I would be interested.' Shelby has been around my whole career and had that influence, but I really wanted it to be her decision and not me pushing her."
Not long after that initial spark of interest, Williams was learning the ins and outs of racing a door car in a silver '68 Chevy Nova owned by fellow Division 7 racer Ryan Mangus, finding her comfort zone bracket racing ahead of making a full charge in Stock. She cut her teeth in Super Street and gradually moved up.
"As soon as I did my first big wheelie, I was hooked," said Williams, who handed the Nova back to Mangus to drive the '70 Chevy Camaro previously owned by Justin Lamb. Mangus had the Camaro good and warmed up after driving it to a final round at the 2018 NHRA Finals.
The move to the Camaro was significant for Williams; the old Bowtie was simply a good fit for her, but it had also been proven as a race car "most likely to succeed" for newcomers to the class.
Wishing to expand his résumé to include Stock eliminator, Lamb had acquired the car from Division 7 standout Tommy Gaynor, who had raced the Phil Unruh-built Camaro to the winner's circle in Sonoma in 2012. Ahead of making his Stock debut in the Camaro for the 2013 season, Lamb had the Camaro outfitted with a Gary Stinnett-built 350-cubic-inch powerplant, Moser Engineering bolt-in suspension kit, and upgraded rear-end components.
Lamb, who has now won in six different NHRA categories, scored his first Stock eliminator national event win at the NHRA Mile-High Nationals in Denver, and by year's end, he was the Stock world champion. Multiclass winner Kyle Seipel, who succumbed to cancer in 2021, also earned his first and only Stock trophy driving the '70 Chevy. At the Phoenix national event in 2015, the gentleman more apt to be found in a dragster jumped into Lamb's door car for the first time for Friday qualifying and just kept right on going to pick up a victory in his fourth different NHRA class.
Williams, who turned 18 in 2021, got her turn that year in just the second national event of her career as she closed out six rounds of eliminations at Sonoma Raceway with a .014-second reaction time and dead-on 10.580 (10.58) to defeat five-time champion Lamb's .036 and 9.827 (9.81).
"That was my first year racing Stock full time, and it was new and early to reach such a big accomplishment. It was a very special moment, and it will always be one of my favorite races," shared Williams. "We started off so high that all my low points in racing came the year after that. I did a lot of learning, but last year, I won some rounds, won my first division race [at Boise, Idaho's Firebird Raceway], and it turned out to be a really good year."
With the support of K&N, Williams finished No. 7 in the Pacific Division's Stock standings while also making her mark in Super Stock driving a '67 Camaro to the semifinals at both the Phoenix national and the early Las Vegas divisional. She'll continue to race the milestone-marking '70 Camaro this year in Stock, and she'll start the year with the same Super Stock entry, with plans to eventually transition to a Pontiac built by B&B Race Cars.
"I like to go fast; racing is just in my blood, but I'm very comfortable in Stock and Super Stock," said Williams. "By the end of my racing career, I could see me doing just about anything with how much my dad and I both love to race. But Stock and Super Stock is where my heart lies."