Q&A with Chris Williams (Part 1 of 2)

Warren Haneline and Chris Williams

Warren Haneline (left) and Chris Williams of Motorsports Authentics chat in a NASCAR merchandise trailer at Kentucky Speedway.

Chris Williams is VP of Motorsports Authentics, the trackside leader of licensed apparel for the teams in NASCAR. Given our common interests in collecting and the Reds, we touched base with Chris through a mutual friend and asked him a few questions. Here is the first half of our Q&A …

OMGReds: How did you get started with your memorabilia business?

CW: I was working for Dale Sr. when he owned all of his apparel and the company that sold his product, known as Sports Image. I started collecting at an early age. My dad was the manager at Martinsville Speedway and I was able to get some stuff that your average person wasn’t subject to. I first remember collecting postcards the drivers would hand out during the weekend, and then those press packages the media would get…

I was a three-sport athlete at Drewry Mason High School and was looking to go play college ball … After high school and while taking some courses in college, the race was in Martinsville and I was trying to work to pay for things … I wasn’t doing too well but was giving it a good try; juggling 3 jobs, a wife and a baby on the way … and needed the cash … The souvenir trailers that were there weren’t allowed on track property at that time. They were parked at the top of the street that went down to the track, directly across from my Dad’s house. Well luck would have it that it rained on race day. Rain in Martinsville means mud, mud means stuck … I had gotten up to Dad’s and saw where the trailers were having troubles. I approached the man about helping get his trailer out, he seemed to be struggling, so I got a tractor, chains and some boards and got ’em out … Well afterwards he asked if I wanted to come work for him selling souvenirs … I liked collecting but had never sold, went home, talked it over with my wife and decided to take that chance; glad I did.

OMGReds: What types of memorabilia do you specialize in? What are your favorite types of items, and with which items is the demand the greatest among consumers in your opinion? What types of memorabilia would you recommend investing in if you had to choose?

CW: Anything can be memorable and people collect for a lot of different reasons … Some do it to show pride and wear it; some collect for the memory of being somewhere or with someone at that time … some want to show their favorite team and player support. They all hold special bonds and memories … Some though do it for a profit or investment as time ages the item. Whatever a person’s reasons, memorabilia has become a part of business in America.

I personally would collect anything that would not perish and has some type of limited quantities in numbers … I would invest smartly in signed product that is authenticated by player and/or author, especially if it is rare and affordable … Most things in those categories ripen with age.

OMGReds: What are your most prized items in your personal collection?

CW: I have a collection of various items … I have baseballs signed from Brooks Robinson, Griffey, Hank Aaron, Bench, Foster, Morgan, Rose, Reggie Jackson and it goes on … I have some helmets from Griffey and Cal Ripken Jr. … Jerseys from a vast assortment of players from Bench to A-Rod …

As far as racing, I have some driver helmets in which my pride would be Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s helmet and uniform. I have some other uniforms from Harvick and Jeff Gordon as well. I have some rare trophies from the older NASCAR races and I have a rare collection of some guns as well.

I have a replica Elvis jumpsuit as well … It’s cool. I tried it on, not so good I looked like the later years of Elvis, if you know what I am saying …

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Be on the lookout for the second half of our Q&A with Chris, where we discuss the future of card collecting and your beloved Cincinnati Reds. Did we mention that Chris is a life-long Reds fan?

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