Living the Dream Through a Lens: Myles Williams on Becoming a Pro Racing Videographer

Seeing Willy T. Ribbs—a Black race car driver—convinced Williams that he, too, could have a place in motorsports.

byKobe Lambeth| UPDATED Feb 24, 2022 2:47 PM
Living the Dream Through a Lens: Myles Williams on Becoming a Pro Racing Videographer
Share

K-PAX Racing videographer Myles Williams didn’t start out thinking he wanted to be a professional motorsports videographer. But it was one of those things where he was able to combine a passion (racing) with something he was good at (shooting) in order to build a career for himself.

Watching a lot of IMSA racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Audis in SCCA Pro, and paying attention to how the camera panned shots inspired Williams to become a business owner. “Speed is shown in various ways and once I had a camera in my hands, I tried to mimic that,” Williams told us in a recent interview. In March 2007, he started up his own company: RCE Video Productions.

In 2010, Williams was asked to shoot a video at Virginia International Raceway for driver Robb Holland. The following year, Holland secured a touring car drive with the K-PAX Racing team and connected Williams with team owner, Jim Haughey. This led to a full-time videographer job with the team and the rest is history. Working with K-PAX over the years led Williams to take on clients such as McLaren GT, Volvo Cars North America, and Bentley Motorsports. Some of his favorite memories include preparing videos for a Volvo sales conference in Las Vegas and McLaren at the Geneva Auto Show.

“I'm just very grateful and you know there are just a lot of good people in this world,” Williams said.

It seems like a great time to be involved. Recently, K-PAX Racing announced it will field two Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVOs in SRO GT World Challenge America, with drivers Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper seeking to defend their title in the Pro class. It'll also field a Pro-Am entry with Giacomo Altoe and Misha Goikhberg. To put the cherry on top, K-PAX plans to bring an all-Pro driver lineup to the biggest GT3 race in the world, the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. Caldarelli, Pepper, and Marco Mapelli will share the factory-backed Lamborghini.

A videographer covering all of these events wears multiple hats at the track so there’s rarely a dull moment. But outside of his work on race weekends, Williams, who has a mechanical engineering background, is also very curious about the cars themselves. When the drivers finish debriefing with the engineers, he’ll ask them how the car feels and they do their best to explain in layman’s terms.

“I'm just pretty involved when I'm at the track,” Williams said. “It's quite an immersive experience because here, you're definitely in the thick of it.”

Entering his 12th year shooting video for the team, Williams will be in the thick of it again in 2022. No one could ask for a better front-row seat.

Representation Matters

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Williams watched racing on television as a little boy when the Wide World of Sports broadcasted events such as the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, and Monaco Grand Prix. At this time, it was the only way for him to enjoy the sport he loved. 

One day, his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I told her a race car driver and she just laughed,” Williams said. “She was like, no, really, what do you want to be? And I was like, I want to be a race car driver.”

As any mother would, she encouraged her son to shoot for the stars, but also reminded him to be realistic with his ambitions. There weren’t many Black racecar drivers. But that didn’t prevent Williams from following his dreams.

Although Williams wasn’t into your traditional stick and ball sports, he raced BMX bikes, ran track, and enjoyed skateboarding. Later on, he got into autocross racing. In 1984, he attended his first autocross event with his uncle and a family friend. This got him interested in track days and that’s where he caught the bug. 

This passion for auto racing led Williams to attend his first IndyCar race in 1993. Living in Baltimore, the closest race on the IndyCar schedule at the time was the Cleveland Grand Prix at Burke Lakefront Airport in Ohio. Originally, he planned to go to Cleveland with a group of people. Unfortunately, everyone backed out at the very last minute, so he ended up going to the IndyCar race alone. 

“I kind of just snuck into the pit lane,” Williams said. “I was back there and you know if you've ever been in a pit lane, they're looking for people who don't have credentials and they're putting them out. So I'm in there and I'm just taking it all in.”

While he wasn’t supposed to be on pit road without a credential, what Williams saw next left him stunned in disbelief.

“In comes this red Indy car and, you know, shuts off and the guy's helmet comes off,” Williams recalled. “And I'm completely in shock because it's a Black guy. It's an African American driver in an Indy car, the highest level of motorsports in the United States. As I quickly learned, his name was Willy T. Ribbs.”

Williams stood there in awe and didn’t leave that spot. To this very day, he still remembers all the emotions deep inside his heart from seeing someone who looked just like him racing in IndyCar. This proved that Black people can be racecar drivers. It wasn’t just a fantasy. It was reality. Representation mattered. It still does.

Besides the birth of his son, Williams considers the initial sight of a Black race car driver as the “single most motivating moment” of his life. After staying at the track for a couple of days, Williams finally got to meet Ribbs, his manager, and his crew chief. They were excited to see a Black race fan hanging out at the track. As a gift, they helped Williams get a credential for the remainder of the Cleveland Grand Prix race weekend, so he didn’t have to worry about getting removed from the pits.

It was an opportunity Williams never forgot. It went on to shape the rest of his career.

Getting a Start… and a Camera

A self-described “car guy,” Williams’ spot in the motorsports industry was first solidified after joking around on the phone with the highly respected motorsports reporter, Marshall Pruett. But in those days, Pruett wasn’t yet a reporter and Williams not yet a shooter. Instead, they’d met through a car parts development business in 2006 when Pruett worked as a crew chief. Williams provided him with sway bars and brake ducts. Their working relationship went on for two to three years. Eventually, Pruett got hired by SPEED to cover racing series such as IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series.

Williams remembers the phone call from February 2007. Pruett was preparing for a business trip to Sebring International Raceway to cover the American Le Mans Series 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race but he needed to find a cameraman.

“I jokingly said, ‘I could be your camera guy,’” Williams said. “I'd taken photography in school at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I was always intrigued by camera work, camera angles, cinematography, and movies. Heavily intrigued by being creative. But I'd never done any real video work.”

In a surprise reaction, Pruett asked Williams if he could see some examples of his work. Up to this point, Williams had only produced a single video from a BMW X5 car launch event in the mid-2000s. Still, the reporter requested to see the video, so Williams sent it to him during the early hours of the morning.

“[Pruett] calls me and says, ‘This will work,’” Williams said.

The euphoria must have been short-lived, though, because another problem immediately came up: Williams didn’t actually own a camera. Luckily, Williams had a good friend, Ken Jan, to hit up. Jan’s family owned a video equipment company in Washington, D.C. It was Jan who helped Williams edit the BMW launch video that landed him the Pruett job.

Jan reacted to Williams’ news with shock and total disbelief. But, like the good friend he is, he helped Williams find the perfect camera and came up with a plan for Williams to spread out the payments over the course of eight to nine months.

“So, I got a tripod, the camera, a frenzied light and, [Jan] gave me a crash course in videography,” Williams said. “You know, stay wide for close shots, if you have to zoom in, you have to be really smooth. I mean, things I've never had to really deal with.”

After that, Williams headed to Sebring to test out his new gear. 

That’s really where Williams’ videography career began. He credits Pruett with taking a chance on him, because if he hadn’t, there’s no telling where Williams would be today. “He gave me the opportunity which put me out there,” Williams said.

But while Williams worked at Sebring, he noticed something. Nobody doing camerawork looked like him. “There were no Black camera guys there that week and definitely none that were working for a broadcast company,” Williams said.

At the end of the day, Williams had a job to focus on. The atmosphere of working inside the American Le Mans Series paddock was a unique experience. During this time, the ALMS had big-name drivers with IndyCar and Formula 1 experience such as Allan McNish, Ryan Briscoe, and Bryan Herta. “To be amongst that was just euphoric,” Williams said. “It was unreal. Surreal. It was like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe I'm here.’

"But don't think that I didn't get looks," he went on. "And mind you this [was] not NASCAR. This [was] the highest level of sports car racing in the country. But I still got looks, you know equal to what you might expect at a NASCAR race in that era, considering you just didn't see any Black people.”

Full Circle

Eighteen years after attending his first IndyCar race, Williams was shooting a video for K-PAX Racing at Long Beach and saw a familiar face in the paddock.

“I just happen to see this guy, mid-height, stocky, like a boxer,” Williams said. “He turned around, I'm like, ‘Oh, that's Willy T. Ribbs!' I knew his face and he knew me. I literally have my camera in my hand, my tripod, and I said, ‘Hey, you want to tell your story from the early days, what happened after IndyCar and so on and so forth?’ And he did. We sat right down there in pit lane. And I just shot it, took that video, posted it, got a lot of likes and comments on YouTube. And from that, Chris Miles of Starting Grid saw me and said, 'Hey, I want to hire you to shoot more stuff for Willy.'”

So in 2013, Williams traveled to Texas to visit Ribbs at his home for an interview after meeting him at the Cleveland Grand Prix all those years ago. Williams called the experience “surreal”—he had idolized Ribbs and he finally had a job that allowed him to interview his hero. 

“The way he was in the car and interviews on TV was the same in real life,” Williams said.

No longer just some kid sneaking into a pit lane to watch the cars, Williams was now solidly in. His heroes were asking him to shoot them, to tell their stories.

Making a Difference

Today, Williams has established himself as an accomplished and professional shooter, one that people can rely on. He has his own company and that’s a big deal. For some, it can be intimidating to take such a major step as a person of color in a predominantly white environment. But Williams doesn't let that stop him.

As the years have gone on, there have been noticeable improvements in diversity across auto racing, such as IMSA’s Diverse Driver Development Scholarship, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity, and IndyCar’s Race for Equality & Change program. But there’s still much work to do.

“Right now the racing industry is far more receptive to that than ever before,” Williams said. “In the past, I can't always say that, but at least now things are moving in a certain direction. But the only way that will continue is if this effort across the board is genuine. And [it has to be] if it's meant to develop—really, truly develop—and become something versus a flash in the pan.”

Williams is more than willing to help others find their home in motorsports and be a part of the solution. He got his start from others helping him out, after all. You never know who can open the door to a chain of events that will get you to where you want to be.

“Dan Hall got me a job with AMCI who hired me as an event driver and I got to do the BMW new car launches,” Williams said. “I decided to do a video of my work in that industry. Marshall [Pruett] liked that video enough to use me. I made the most of that opportunity and met Robb Holland who later told me the owner of K-PAX needs a video guy. Then, Jim Haughey hired me to shoot video.”

In the last year and in an effort to increase diversity in motorsports, Williams has worked to personally sponsor a driver who dreamed of racing at a professional level. For him, it's an honor to be in the position to help more people of color get into the industry because he wouldn’t be here without others taking a chance on him. Always pay it forward.

Kobe Lambeth works as the multimedia producer at GRID network. His work has appeared on Insider.

Got a tip? Email tips@thedrive.com.