Seventeen-year-old Zeb Wise is a rising star in midget and sprint car racing, so it’s hard to believe there was actually a time much earlier in his life when the youngster from Angola, Ind., wanted nothing to do with the sport.
“My dad didn’t race and no one in my family had any racing history,” Wise explained to SPEED SPORT. “But my dad owned a body shop and a guy named Bob Bischak — his son is Derek Bischak who currently races in the USAC Silver Crown division — was the guy who delivered tools to my dad’s shop. He took notice of my age, I was right around 4 or 5 years old, and he had an old quarter midget that used to be Derek’s. We put it together, got me a race suit and all that, and we went to a track in Toledo, Ohio, to do some testing.
“Actually, my first experience during that test day I hated it; and I cried all the way home. I never wanted to go back. They eventually got me to go back for a race and I’m not sure what clicked, but something ignited in me and that’s how it all began.”
Wise excelled on the track and quickly rose through the quarter midget ranks, winning more than 150 features and claiming seven championships over six seasons. It was during his time in quarter midgets that Wise caught the attention of open-wheel sensation Bryan Clauson and his father, Tim.
“Bryan and Tim were at a quarter midget race at the Brickyard. They were there to watch a different driver that they had kind of had their eyes on,” Wise recalled. “From what I heard, Bryan said they were watching that kid and they looked back a little bit and there I was. Probably, 10 or 11 years old, changing up my line and trying to pass cars. Tim said it reminded him a lot of how Bryan used to drive in quarter midgets.
“They came back to the trailer after the race and said, ‘If you need anything when you’re ready to take that next step, let us know and we’ll do what we can to help.’ That’s how it all began with Bryan and Tim. I ended up going with Bryan, Tim and the team to a few Indiana Sprint Week races to just kind of hang out and get a feel for the team and what those guys are like. I was actually there when Bryan won his last non-winged race, so it was pretty cool to be a part of that.”
After graduating from quarter midgets, Wise did some micro sprint racing before capitalizing on an opportunity to wheel a midget for Clauson-Marshall Racing.
Wise continued to build an impressive résumé as he reset Bryan Clauson’s mark of being the youngest driver (15 years, 8 months and 21 days) to win a USAC midget feature and he topped the second running of the BC39 midget spectacular at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2019.
“The BC39 is a big race and I think it’s only going to get bigger. You’re on a big stage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and racing against Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and guys like that,” Wise noted. “It wasn’t an easy feat to get that win, and we had a lot of pressure, driving the BC39 car at the BC39. As a result, everything that added up to that win was pretty special.”
Even though Bryan Clauson died on Aug. 7, 2016, following a crash in the Belleville Midget Nationals, he’s had a tremendous influence on Wise’s driving career.
“Bryan was someone that I looked up to on and off the race track. He was the guy I always wanted to be like,” Wise said. “Obviously, he is the reason I have made it to where I am today. Without Bryan and his influence on me and the shot he gave me, I would not be where I am. And that also goes for his father, Tim. Those two have had the biggest influence on my career, so far.”
That fact made a difficult decision even harder last fall when Wise decided to leave Clauson-Marshall Racing.
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