TULSA, Okla. – There may not have been anyone happier inside the River Spirit Expo Center on Tuesday during preparations for Warren CAT Qualifying Night at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals than Zeb Wise.
Or at least, if there was someone happier than Wise, you’d have been hard pressed to find them.
Wise was wearing an ear-to-ear grin as he suited up to tackle his second attempt at the Chili Bowl, in part because he’s making his debut for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports this week.
It’s an opportunity that many weren’t expecting to develop, after Wise developed the first few years of his midget career with KKM rival Clauson-Marshall Racing, but it’s a pairing that has come with plenty of hype.
One of dirt racing’s hottest young prospects teaming with the organization that has won the last five Chili Bowl Saturday features? Count Wise in among those eager to see how it all shakes out.
“Man, people don’t understand how good it feels to have this shot and to be able to come back and go midget racing,” Wise said. “Keith’s team is one of the best out there, and he had been in talks with us for a while to be able to sit in one of his cars and go to work together, so to be able to have accomplished putting that together last month and now be here at the Chili Bowl ready to go … I’m just excited, man.
“It’s not going to be a lot – maybe 10 races or so, given my sprint car schedule with the All Stars (at Sam McGhee Motorsports) – but a couple of mid-week races, the BC39, maybe some of the West Coast stuff at the end I think we’ll try and do,” Wise added. “And obviously, it all starts here. I’m just ready to go. Obviously, everyone in this building knows what this team has done here at the Chili Bowl; they’re as good as it gets, so hopefully we can add to it this week and help to give them another strong run.”
While Wise is bursting at the seams to begin his Keith Kunz Motorsports tenure on a high note, he was quick to note that the decision to leave Clauson-Marshall Racing for new pastures wasn’t easy, by any means.
“It was a very tough decision,” Wise explained. “It was tough for us, not only on a racing scale, but we’re all friends and I’ve been treated like family for the past few years with Clauson-Marshall and it was a very tough decision for me to make. It’s part of racing, though, as hard as that reality is.
“They gave me an opportunity three years ago that I’m very thankful for every day, and I wouldn’t be standing here or talking about any of this if it wasn’t for them,” Wise continued. “It was very tough on a personal level, but that’s part of racing and we’ll move on and find our paths forward for the future.”
But though Wise’s racing relationship with CMR will change, the 17-year-old from Angola, Ind., said he’ll still consider Tim Clauson and Richard Marshall, as well as their crew, as his friends in the long run.
“The ride change for me didn’t change anything with our friendship, especially between me and Tim,” said Wise. “We still talk and we’re really close. I think I was kind of like a son to him, and he was honestly like a dad to me. Nothing’s changed other than I’m going mostly sprint car racing … and Tim made it clear that he’s going to (still) support me in everything I’ve done.
“I think that says a lot about us two as friends on a professional level going into this Chili Bowl.”
Looking back at the racing at hand, Wise knows he’s in the best position he’s been in yet going into Chili Bowl Nationals week, as well as with the team that all eyes are on every year.
However, much like his smile would suggest, Wise is relaxed and worry-free as he gears up to chase both his first preliminary night win and – later in the week – potentially his first Golden Driller.
“I try not to put any of that pressure on myself, and I know they’re not going to put that pressure on me,” noted Wise of the KKM squad. “We all know they’ve had success there and I think we’re going to be a good combination. I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just going to go out there and treat it like another race and another car and just go out there and race my hardest … and whatever happens, happens.
“We’ll go out there and do our best, and I think we’ll have a pretty good week,” he added. “Obviously Keith’s cars know their way around the Chili Bowl. That’s pretty clear, with three wins (in a row) with Christopher (Bell) and then the two years before that with Rico (Abreu). So I feel like I’ve put myself in a good position and I know Keith is going to do everything he can to get me comfortable.
“I feel at home with these guys and I think we’re going to be just fine. I really do.”
How to Watch the Chili Bowl:
Mobil 1 Road To The Golden Driller – Story Index Page
News, analysis, interviews, behind-the-scenes and more – updated throughout each day.
LIVE PPV Streaming Broadcast – Racinboys.com
Monday – Saturday coverage
LIVE Television Broadcast – MAVTV.com
Saturday, Jan. 18th at 8:30pm EST
Toyota Racing Development has won five consecutive Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals features. Thanks to Mobil 1, SPEED SPORT is providing exclusive coverage of the multi-car organization, led by three-time winner and current champ Christopher Bell and two-time Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu, and other Toyota-equipped organizations and drivers as they prepare for and compete in the Chili Bowl. The Mobil 1 Road To The Driller program is in addition to SPEED SPORT and Sprint Car & Midget’s traditional “Live from the Chili Bowl presented by MyRacePass” coverage that surrounds the event.