KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Zeb Wise’s solid showing in his winged sprint car debut was part of a strong night for Baughman Reutzel Motorsports during the Knoxville Raceway season opener on Saturday.
Not only did the team successfully guide Wise through his maiden voyage, but team co-owner Aaron Reutzel also put on an impressive run through the 410 sprint car field en route to a runner-up finish.
Wise, who will pilot the No. 17 entry for the team in 10-13 races this year, took to the track in the 360 division and checked all the boxes he hoped to accomplish at the half-mile black dirt oval.
The 16-year-old from Angola, Ind., made the show in his first time racing at Knoxville, finished on the lead lap in 14th and kept his car out of trouble so his crew could roll it back in the trailer in one piece.
All in all, Wise called his performance on Saturday “successful,” given that he was debuting in a winged car at the most historic track for the discipline anywhere in the United States.
“I’m really happy with how my first sprint car start went,” Wise said after the race. “I said going into this that I had three goals I wanted to accomplish on Saturday – make the show, stay out of trouble and roll the car back in the trailer – and we did each of those things, so that’s a really good feeling for us.
“It’s definitely a learning curve for me, but I’m excited for the future and thankful for the opportunity.”
A particular highlight of Wise’s night came right at the start, when he rolled out for time trials and promptly put his No. 17 seventh on the board in qualifying amid a field of 34 stout entries.
Wise outgunned eventual race winner Ryan Giles, eventual runner-up Jon Agan and even defending track champion Clint Garner with his lap of 17.338 seconds (103.818 mph) as the 19th driver to time in.
“That was a cool feeling,” he recalled. “It was definitely an early confidence booster for me.”
Wise struggled in his heat race, but ended up rolling off 13th for the 18-lap 360 feature.
He moved up as high as 11th in the early laps, but bobbled in traffic on lap four and fell back two positions as a result. Wise later surrendered a spot to Ryan Leavitt on lap eight.
Once he settled in, however, Wise’s pace began to pick up. He ran his fastest lap with six to go, a 20.175-second clip (89.219 mph) around the Knoxville half-mile, and kept Giles from putting a lap on him in the final stages of the feature.
What was the biggest thing Wise learned as he traversed traffic during the night?
“It was huge seeing how much dirty air affects these cars,” he noted. “That was a real challenge for me and something I feel like I kept learning about through the whole feature.
“At the end, though, I felt like we were in a better place and I was getting a bit of a handle on it.”
In addition to Wise’s solid run, the Baughman Reutzel team also left Knoxville with a podium finish in 410 action on Saturday night, thanks to Reutzel’s race through the field from 12th to second.
Reutzel started from the outside of row six for the 20-lap headliner and cut through the field like a knife through butter in the early going, moving up to fifth by the third revolution and never leaving the top five after that point.
The defending All Star Circuit of Champions titlist later became embroiled in a thrilling fight for second with Justin Henderson, taking that position for good with four to go and setting his sights on Brown.
While Reutzel couldn’t quite track down the eventual winner in the end, he did cut the lead gap down from two seconds to just .885 of a second when Justin Clark’s checkered flag waved over the field.
Knoxville Raceway’s Championship Cup season continues on Saturday, April 27, while Reutzel continues his quest for a second-straight All Star championship on Friday, April 26 at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park.
Wise returns to action April 26-28 with Clauson-Marshall Racing, racing with the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League in a tripleheader weekend, while his next USAC National Midget Series race will be May 17 at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill.
The rest of Wise’s limited schedule with Baughman Reutzel Motorsports will be revealed at a later date.