PERRIS – This round of interviews with Perris Auto Speedway racers about what they are doing during the coronavirus is on Ken McWilliams. McWilliams began his racing career at The PAS in the old sport compact class.  He moved onto Street Stocks before settling into Figure 8 Cars and Figure 8 Trailer Racing at the popular “Nights of Destruction.”  The Menifee resident posted back to back championships in the Figure 8 Trailer class in 2016 and 2017.

When it comes to the coronavirus crisis, Ken and wife Amber have had a virtual roller coaster of emotions over the past six weeks.  Here is their story.

PAS: Let’s start this.  It is in the first half of March and you and your wife are just about ready to leave for a three-day cruise to Mexico and what happens?

McWilliams: We had a cruise booked with some friends.  The day we were leaving – actually about a half-hour before we were going to leave – we get a leak in our bathroom.  I just shut off the water and left to go on the cruise.  There was not going to be anyone at the house.

PAS: When you were on the ship, were you aware of things really starting to heat up regarding the coronavirus?

McWilliams: Yeah, but only because I have the Internet package on my phone and a lot of it was through Facebook, unfortunately.  The reason I had the Internet package is because we own the gym and I wanted to know if something went wrong at the gym.  I wanted to make sure if something went wrong, the coaches had an outlet to contact us.  So, I knew what was up. Actually, when we were on the cruise they said there would be no more cruises.  We were actually the last cruise to go out of Long Beach.

PAS: Did you have any fears that you were going to have problems getting back or that you were going to get stuck on the ship?

McWilliams: We were a little worried about being quarantined or stuck getting back.  They told us everything was going to go off as normal.  They took our temperatures before and after and they were checking on us.  People with hand sanitizers were everywhere.  Like, at every doorway.  There was actually more crew people on the ship than passengers.

Cars racing at PASSCAR Super Stocks at the Perris Auto Speedway
Racers at Perris Auto Speedway prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Valley News/Vane Ledgerwood photo

PAS: Was this the typical three-day cruise to Ensenada?  You know, where you can get off at Ensenada?

McWilliams: Yeah, the typical three-day one. We went for a friend of ours who graduated nursing school.  We got off at Ensenada.  At that time, I guess, Mexico did not have any issues.  It was fine and normal.  It was like normal with the exception that there was probably only a third of the people (onboard) who would have normally been on there.  There was like 900 (passengers) of a possible 2,300, I think.  There was probably 1,200 crew people.  It was the cleanest cruise ship I have ever been on and I have been on a few.

PAS: So, you had the water leak.  You went on the cruise.  What happened next?

McWilliams: The dog ran away.  I was cleaning up the garage to put in a home gym since we were probably going to work out at home more.  I accidentally left the side gate open and she left.  It was actually kind of weird because she never leaves.

PAS: You guys were pretty panicked.  I saw the stuff on social media where you were trying to find her.  A lot of people jumped in to help, correct?

McWilliams: Amber and I were definitely very grateful because a lot of people from the racing industry who are local and a lot of our friends from our gym reposted our information on social media.  We had about 10 of our friends come over that next day and helped search for the dog for a good six or seven hours.  They were combing the neighborhood & fields and putting up signs.  We started putting signs up saying she needed medication even though she didn’t because nobody ever wants to take a sick dog we hoped.

PAS: Despite all your friend’s work, nothing ever came from it.  The dog came back on her own, correct?

McWilliams: She was gone for six days and showed up when I came home from work one day.  I think somebody had her because with all of the rain and stuff that happened on those days, the white on her was pretty clean.  She did not look like she was starving, and she didn’t look like she had been in any dog fights.  She just showed up at the house.

PAS: How is that side gate looking now?

McWilliams: It is closed at all times and I double-check.

PAS: The leak is fixed; the cruise went okay, and the dog is home.  That is all great, but your gym, the business you own, not the one in your garage, has been closed for about a month now.

McWilliams: I think it was March 13th that we closed it.  We had been following up with the news.  We were having a meeting with our coaches to keep them updated on what we were going to do by taking extra precautions.  We had the meeting and later they (government) came up with the new mandates.  So, we had to cut the classes back to nine people (plus one instructor) and I knew we were going to end up having to close.  I had already started putting things in place for online classes.  Loaning out equipment and stuff like that so we could keep people engaged to hopefully keep their membership because we still have rent, employees to pay, utilities and all of that other stuff.

PAS: What is the outlook for your gym right now?

McWilliams: We definitely have taken a hit.  The government funding, we have tried to apply for some of that, but nobody knows what the government’s requirements are.  They (the government) say they are going to do this, you apply, and the banks say they do not know how to disperse the money because the government hasn’t told them.  They haven’t really helped out small businesses when it comes to paying rent and all that other stuff.  It is mainly all for homeowners.  Technically we are still on the hook for the full month of rent, so we are trying to work with the landlord.  It is just a big mess and a big headache.

PAS: When do you think you will be able to open it back up?

McWilliams: L.A. County extended their stay at home to May 15th.  As far as Riverside County I have not heard anything, so, I am hoping May 1st.  I think we will probably be good until about June, but after that things would probably get dicey for us.

PAS: What are you doing during the quarantine to occupy your time?

McWilliams: I am still doing a bunch of gym stuff.  Holding online classes, trying to keep up with the members to see how they are doing and keep them engaged.  I am still working for my father in law (office cleaning business) at night and a couple days in the morning, but that has actually slowed down quite a bit because a lot of the businesses have closed down.  I think I may be taking another job in the meantime just to try and stay ahead of the game.

PASSCAR Street Stock racing. Valley News/Doug Allen photo

PAS: What other job will you be doing?

McWilliams:  Possibly driving for Amazon for a couple days a week.  Kill a bit of time and help the income to keep coming in.  I don’t really want to go the unemployment round because if I can find work, it will allow them to give money to somebody who needs it.

PAS: You have also had a huge tragedy when a member of your gym, Aliya Malabanan, passed away.

McWilliams: Last November she was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer.  There has only been one or two in the states.  She had chemo treatments that did not work. She ended up having to have surgery that was very difficult.  Everything was going good, but then she started having some issues and she was going to be on chemo basically for the rest of her life.  At the end of March, she ended up passing away.  On top of everything else that was kind of a kicker because she was a big part of our community.  It was just another thing to add to the stress.

PAS: We need to turn these frowns upside down.  Are you doing anything with racing right now or is that on hold?

McWilliams: I have to put a transmission in my car, but besides that we really do not have much to do.  We can be ready to race in a couple of days.

PAS: We must ask you what one of the most popular guys at the track is up to.  Your dad, Jose Sandoval?

McWilliams: Right now, he is at the yard talking to one of his workers.  He is loving it because it is not raining for the first time in four days and he was actually able to get out of the house.  He is doing good.  He is the same old guy loving life.  He is always looking at the bright side of everything.  I don’t think he ever has a bad day.  I try to live by that.  No matter how bad things can get, he always tries to look at the bright side.  There is nothing you can do about it (current coronavirus crisis) so, you have got to find something positive.

For anyone who would like to contact Ken in regards to joining his gym’s offline fitness classes, please call (951) 363-3083.

Ken would like to thank the following sponsors for getting him onto the racetrack.  Jose’s Tractors, Amber’s Janitorial, Crossfit Murrieta, Murrieta Barbell Club, Tom’s Fabrication and One Shot Apparel.

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With concerns of COVID-19 spreading at a more serious rate, the Perris Auto Speedway canceled all events until further notice. Valley News/Courtesy photo

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Perris Auto Speedway is conveniently located on the SoCal Fair and Event Center (home of October’s Southern California Fair), approximately one-hour east of Los Angeles and one-hour North of San Diego. To get to the track, take the 215 freeway, on the Ramona Expressway and go three miles east to the fairgrounds. For directions on MapQuest, the address to enter is: 18700 Lake Perris Drive and the zip code is 92571.

Perris Auto Speedway wants to thank its corporate partners for the 2019 season.  Ahern Equipment Rentals, All Coast Construction, Battery Systems, Budweiser, Bud’s Tire Pro, Chris’ Hauling, City of Perris, Communication Innovations, Daytona Boat & RV Storage, Ed Moore Bullet Proof Driveshaft, Flowdynamics, HD Industries, Hoosier Tires, Inland Rigging, Living Water’s Hospice, LKQ Pick Your Part, Luke’s Transmission, Pepsi-Cola, Pole Position, PrintItNow.com,  Rainbow Bolt & Supply, Rugged Radios, Shaver Specialties, Square H, Sunoco Race Fuels, Trench Shoring, Upland Rock, Varner Construction and Vista Paint.