One of Chad Williams oldest memories from when he was 5 or 6 is putting together a truck with his dad. Not a model truck. A truck. An ’86 Chevy pick-up truck.
“The motor needed to be replaced so we did that. Along the way, he explained every detail to me,” remembers Chad, the Occupational Safety Program Manager for Risk Management Services. “He had learned to work on cars all on his own so teaching me and answering every question that I asked with as much detail as possible was very important to him.”
As young Chad held the flashlight and listened to his father explain his next steps, an interest began to grow until it became a passion of his own – with his own ’69 Chevy Camaro to rebuild.
A family’s love of cars
Chad’s father, Steve Williams, found not only a life partner in his mother, but an expanded family that shared his interest in cars.
Chad’s maternal grandfather, Mel Marrs, started drag racing in the late 1950s. This eventually became a shared hobby for Steve and Mel.
“They had an AA Altered short wheel-based dragster with a blown Chrysler hemi,” Chad recalls. (Here’s a short guide to drag racing terms for those not in the know.) “They set national records with it. When they decided to stop racing it, my dad and uncle bought their own cars and raced for several years.”
Chad was a couple of years older by this time and grew up around a racetrack. When he was a bit older, he even got to warm up the dragster for his father.
“One year, we raced for 42 weeks in a row and a year after that my dad decided to sell the car. He got burned out on it and was ready to move on to the next hobby,” says Chad.
From cars to karts to cars again
For a while – about a year – Chad and his father decided to take on a hobby that put Chad at the wheel: go-karts.
But, these were not just some fun carnival rides. They took a 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton motor, put in bigger pistons and Tillotson high performance carburetor to give it more air and more “bang.”
“It could do somewhere between 70 and 75 mph,” says Chad, recalling that kart had no rollbar and was built so that the driver could be ejected in case of a crash.
Even though other drivers who’d had wrecks had done so without major injuries, Chad’s mother thought this hobby might be a bit too dangerous, so it was time to think of a new hobby.
“My dad started hunting for a project we could do together and found it in a 1970 Chevelle with a 454 big block motor, black with silver stripes – it was a great daily driving car and we took it and made it our own,” he remembers.
They took the 454 motor out and put in a blown 496 – it had a blower that stuck out of the hood – and fixed a few odds and ends on it so that Chad and his brother could drive it to high school.
That process got Chad hooked once and for all on restoring and repairing cars.
“At one point our family had a fleet of five cars – a ’67 Chevy, the ‘70 Chevelle, a ‘69 nova and two ‘69 Camaros – all unique and all with something different to bring to the table,” says Chad.
Eventually, Chad’s dad Steve sold most of the cars and bought a ’67 Chevelle wagon that Chad’s parents drove around the country for years.
As Chad got older, he wanted to take on a project himself. And, in 2010 he did just that when a ’69 Chevy Camaro rode into his life.
Bright yellow, slighting dinged and – he would later learn – repaired in not-quite-factory-approved ways (duct tape and Bondo covering a hole in the floor board), Chad took the car down to its frame.
“It took one year from exiting the driver’s seat to being back in the driver’s seat – it was just a weird coincidence that it worked out that way,” he says. “I literally ripped every single nut and bolt off that car, I pulled the engine, sent the sheet metal panels out to a shop that uses electrolysis to strip off any paint and rust, and sandblasted the frame.”
He used a top restorer of Camaros to connect with another person who has an original Chevy paint book, and then used that connection to find a person in Arkansas that could mix the paint correctly so that it has an original Chevy “Hugger” orange color.
“I was single when I was restoring that car so I would work a full day, get off work at 6 p.m., and then work on the car until midnight. I spent just about every weekend working on the car,” Chad recalls. “It’s such a cherished memory.”
A new path
With his love of cars evident throughout so much of his life, Chad naturally found himself working in the auto industry. It was a good fit for several years, but it was hard physically. He thought about working on other people’s cars but there was something about that idea that seemed to drain the fun out of it.
But, what could someone who had an intense love of detailed work and who was savvy enough to think through complex problems do?
One of his friends had an idea – joking at first, telling Chad that he would be good as a safety inspector. The friend, a pipeline worker, told him how the inspector on site had a great understanding of compliance rules but did not have a real understanding of how the job worked. That led to conflicts on the job site.
“He said, ‘You’d be great at that job – you understand these kinds of things and you’re great with people,’” Chad says.
At the time he was working full-time at a tire store, but he decided to take nighttime college classes and that led to his job here at UNT where he inspects areas for health and safety compliance.
“That one conversation altered my career path,” he says. “I would probably never go back into the auto industry, but I’m looking forward to the day my sons are grown to see if they have any interest in continuing to work on cars, too.”
Although cars are one of Chad’s earliest interests, with two young sons and a busy work schedule he hasn’t taken on any new restoration projects. His current favorite pastime focuses on baking or cooking.
“I knew my cooking was really good when I invited my parents over for a pot roast dinner and my mom said it was the best roast she’d ever had,” Chad recalls.
Below, he talks a bit more about this new hobby and shares his signature Cheesy Cream Corn recipe.
Q: What do you like more – cooking or baking? And, why?
A: I like cooking a little more than baking. The reason I like it more is that it is more forgiving if you make a mistake over baking.
Q: What is your favorite food to make? What is your signature dish ?
A: My favorite food to make is BBQ. Smoked Brisket is one of my signature dishes. I also get request for my smoked Cowboy Mac n Cheese, Cheesy Corn, or Smoked Brisket Queso.
Q: Do you have any cooking/baking tips to share?
A: Always take your time and follow the recipe the first time you make any new dish. Once you have made the dish as it was originally made then add your changes a little each time you make the dish until it’s how you want it.
Q: What were some of the biggest lessons you had to learn?
A: Understand you are going to make some mistakes and food may not turn out exactly the way you want it sometimes, that means you just need to try again and learn from what went wrong last time. Also, never try a new dish when you need a dish to be perfect for who your cooking for.
Q: How can people reach you to learn more?
A: If anyone would like to follow my cooking adventures you can find me on Facebook at Williams Smokehouse and Bar. I show how I make most of my meals and will begin sharing recipes soon.
Check out this recipe shared by Chad - click on the image to go to a larger readable PDF version.