photo by Pete Garramone dragpixbypete.com
Rob’s first pass down a drag strip was as a high school senior riding a gasoline-powered Harley Davidson Sportster in 1964. “I was just a country kid living in Keenesburg, Colorado. I didn’t know anything, but I was willing to find out.” Without much success in his early attempts, Rob modified the carburetor to accept nitromethane, “because that’s what the winning top-fuel cars were doing.”
That bike never saw the track again. “I hydraulicked it in the garage and broke a rod. My best buddy Melvin took the bike, and he broke it just like I did.”
IBM hired Rob right out of high school. Money in his pocket meant more money in his racing effort. He saw the 1966 Dodge Coronet 426 Street Hemi advertised in a magazine and rushed to a Denver dealer to order it. “They’d never heard of the car. They scratched their heads and looked at each other. I was just young kid, but suddenly I was the expert.”
He ordered the car and took delivery, but the Dodge Coronet saw only 1500 miles before Rob had the engine out of it, and into a gasoline powered dragster. With some modification, the same engine went into a blown nitromethane dragster, and finally into a nitro methane funny car, “because that’s where the money was.
“Bit by bit there was less left of the original 426 Hemi,” Rob remembers, “until finally it was just the block and the heads. I was running 100% nitro methane in those days, but only because I didn’t have a hydrometer to calculate a mixture. I was just running fuel straight out of the barrel.”
Rob’s successes with brother Rex in the Williams Bros funny car caught the attention of team owners Ron Kershal and Roger Guzman, and Rob drove the Super Rat Monza for a successful season. In 1977, Rob and Roger teamed up again to take the funny car Assassination to its first championship in NHRA Region 5.
Assassination saw a total of five regional championships in six years with Rob at the controls. They set multiple track records, and even briefly held a national record of 6.53 seconds, 221.13 miles per hour for the quarter mile, until Don Garlits broke it just three hours later.
All good things come to an end, and after the 1982 championship season, Rob left drag racing for competitive go-karting. Rob enjoyed the racing, but he also found two other aspects of karting enjoyable: tuning his daughter Brenda to a championship, and actually building the karts and engines. Working with Mike Sandberg of Valley Kart Engineering, Rob designed and machined parts, built engines and put together winning karting packages.
After retiring from IBM in the mid-nineties, Rob applied his knack for organization and engine building to another venue as he dedicated more of his time to building Junior Dragster engines and race cars.
At the same time, he began working safety and maintenance for Bandimere Speedway, where he designed and built a widely acclaimed track-prep rotating "tire drag" Rob affectionately named Rikishi, which was ultimately sold to Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad of Qatar for use in the Arabian Drag Racing League.
By 2005, Rob was thinking it was time to slow down and spend some time on himself. He bought a Harley Davidson Super Glide Sport, then traded it in on a 2006 Road Glide. “I only had 500 miles on that bike before I was looking for more power, but all the dealers and mechanics I talked to just read descriptions off parts boxes: these pipes will give you five more horsepower; this ignition will add ten horsepower. I wanted someone who actually knew how to build and tune a system."
Inquiries in the community led him to Randy Miller, then a mechanic at a local Harley shop. The first things Randy started talking about were camshaft profiles, valve overlap and using bottom-end torque instead of just horse power. "I knew he actually understood." Rob followed Randy when he opened his own shop, Speedwrench, and their professional relationship grew into a friendship.
In a pivotal moment, Randy asked Rob to attend the 2009 BUB Speed Trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats. “I actually think he just wanted me for my pickup truck and my trailer,” Rob says with a smile.
Whatever the reason, the experience was life changing. Once again, the engineering mind was at work, planning the nitro methane-powered motorcycles that would prove to Randy and Julianna, and anyone else paying attention, that Rob Williams is the “Big Bad Nitro Daddy.”