“It was definitely a hard decision for myself and my family to make for many reasons. They gave me that opportunity and put me in the position I’m in today. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and, at the time, I was only 16 years old,” Wise said of leaving the Clauson-Marshall team. “But I had the opportunity to go full-time sprint car racing, so I took that. As far as the midget stuff goes, there were no hard feelings. I didn’t leave because I was mad or upset. Just another door opened and I walked through it.
“Most 17-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to go winged 410 sprint car racing. That’s been my dream since I was 5 years old, to run winged sprint cars full time,” Wise continued. “Not that I didn’t want a midget championship or more midget wins – there is still a lot to check off on that side of things — but I had to take advantage of an opportunity that was presented to me at a good time. I’m grateful for Sam McGhee and his father, Mike, and everyone there for supporting me and giving me this shot.”
The original plan for this season was for Wise to run the full Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions schedule in the Sam McGhee Racing No. 11 sprint car and make 10 to 15 appearances in a midget fielded by Keith Kunz Motorsports.
Obviously, those plans were temporarily interrupted by the coronavirus and adjustments will be necessary moving forward.
Unlike many in his age group, Wise has carefully outlined both his short-term and long-term goals.
“Obviously, the first goal is the get rookie of the year with the All Stars, which isn’t going to be easy because there are a few new guys on the roster,” he said. “It’s going to be tough but that’s a really good goal for us. We’ve only got one race in the sprint car under our belt this year and a few at the end of last year, so we’ll see what happens after the first few races. In addition, if we could get a win with any series that would be unbelievable and I’d be really happy.”
Looking farther down the road, he added, “I would love to be a full-time World of Outlaws driver, and I don’t think that’s out of range. I’ve got to make the right moves on the race track and off, because how you act off the track is just as important as your driving. I think if we can put everything together you might see us out there on the Outlaws tour in a few years.”
What about possibly turning his career toward NASCAR racing?
“I’m not against the idea,” Wise responded. “Obviously, I’ve got pavement experience even though it was when I was 5 to 12 years old in quarter midgets. I think it would be really cool and really exciting to try and learn new things and see what we can do. Me driving for Keith Kunz and Toyota being hooked up with them, that might open some doors, but I’m not real sure because we haven’t talked about anything like that. You never know what could happen in the coming years, so I’ve just got to keep my head down and look to the next sprint car race.”
Wise is more like a typical teenager when he’s able to step away from racing.
“I live on a lake, so we do a lot of jet skiing and go out in the boat and go tubing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, all that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s seasonal, but my favorite thing to do is snowmobiling. I’ve always told everyone that if I didn’t race cars, I’d attempt to race snowmobiles because I think that would be really fun.
“I’ve also got a 1979 Ford pickup truck that I take cruising around all of the lakes in our county.”
In addition to his talent behind the wheel, Wise’s unique first name helps him stand out among a rather large pack of young, up-and-coming open-wheel racers.
“But Zeb is not actually my first name,” Wise revealed. “My first name is really Chad, which is also my dad’s name. Zeb is short of Zebulon, which is my middle name. It’s from my great, great, great grandpa — if I remember that correctly as I’m not 100 percent sure on how many greats — but I know it’s one of my grandpas. Since my dad’s name is Chad, everyone has called me Zeb ever since I was born. I don’t think anyone has ever called me Chad.
“I like Zeb because it’s different and unique — and kind of a cool racer name.”