Lake Elsinore 11-year-old Hali “Pepper” Williams loves to do typical kid stuff, like playing in the school band, going to karate class and doing backflips on her trampoline.
But this weekend Williams will be doing something quite exceptional, becoming the youngest person ever to race in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix at Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park.
A two-time Dirt Series Trophy Kart champion, this sixth-grade phenom has become quite a racer in the three years she’s been competing off-road with her father, Gary Williams.
Sunday, during the latest edition of the historic race, a 4-foot tall Hali Williams will test her mettle against grown adults, competing in the UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) Super Stock 570/800 class at around 2 p.m.
“It’s kind of cool because I’m going to be the youngest ever,” said Williams, who plays clarinet in her elementary school’s concert band. “I get to race against adults and if I pass them and beat them … then when they find out I’m a little girl, they are going to be shocked, saying ‘What? That was a little girl that passed me?’”
Williams gets her love of racing from her dad, who raced off-road for years, until he hung up his racing suit six years ago.
Sunday, Gary Williams will put that suit back on to accompany his daughter in the passenger seat of the UTV in the biggest race of her life.
After all, that was the deal he struck with the organizers of the Grand Prix when he got them to agree to let her race.
Race organizer Heather Sebastianinitially said no to his request because Hali didn’t meet the minimum age (15) to race.
“I did some research about her racing before I made my decision and Mr. Williams agreed to a waiver,” said the 34-year-old Sebastian, who raced her whole life and understands Hali’s passion for the sport. “But, safety is the biggest thing.
“As a racer and a fan, I want to be supportive of her. As a promoter, I’m very cautious but optimistic that everything will work out.”
The last two years, Williams dominated Dirt Series’ Trophy Trucks class, winning back-to-back titles. In 2015, she made the podium in all nine races, finishing first five times, including winning the last two races. The last week of the series, she also raced in her new 800 UTV in her first-ever class race, and finished fourth out of five drivers.
Despite driving against men who are at least three times her age, Williams was never intimidated. According to her dad, she battled with with the third-place driver, driving right on his bumper most of the race. She attempted several passes that were thwarted by him.
“He would not let her by and after the race it was pretty cool because he actually came in the pits and shook her hand,” Gary Williams said. “He said that the other drivers worried about her racing in the class but that she held her own.
“She gained some respect from the other drivers in just her first race.”
What started as a recreational thing on weekend family trips to the desert, has turned into a passion Hali has for driving and racing.
“I like racing because it’s exciting and you get trophies,” she said.. “My favorite part of racing is hanging out with all my friends, having fun on the track and doing the jumps.”
Now, faced with a timed heat on a long, arduous track, Williams is not intimidated. She’s looking forward to attacking the technical circuit and making her way to the front of the pack.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m not that nervous because they let me do this and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
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