TULSA, Okla. – He may not have had the week he envisioned at the Tulsa Expo Center, but Zeb Wise was still able to celebrate rookie-of-the-year honors following Saturday’s finale to the 33rd annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
Wise finished ninth in the second of two B-mains to secure the award, making a last-lap pass for position that proved decisive in the final outcome. He edged out fellow 16-year-old Cannon McIntosh, who came home 10th in the first B-main, for top rookie honors at the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
The week-long effort checked off every box but one for Wise, who had high hopes of making the 55-lap championship feature in his first Chili Bowl attempt.
After reflecting on his week, however, Wise found the silver lining in the clouds.
“At the time, I was pretty disappointed, because making it to the A-main was something that I really hoped we could do, even in my first year at the Chili Bowl. But to only be two spots out my first time there, I can’t be too disappointed, especially after coming home with rookie of the year,” Wise told SPEED SPORT. “It’s pretty special to go in there and do that well in my first visit, but next year … we’re going for the (Golden) Driller.”
Wise becomes the third Chili Bowl debutant in three years to take home rookie-of-the-year honors from the premier midget event for Clauson-Marshall Racing, following Gio Scelzi’s maiden run last year and Donny Schatz’s first Chili Bowl appearance in 2017.
“It shows what Tim can do and is capable of, as far as developing a driver,” Wise noted. “Obviously, we went in there with Gio last year … and he had only run a midget one time for us and he went out and put it in the show. It shows how this team can help make someone comfortable in a midget within a matter of a few races.
“I’d been there for two years, but developing a driver for the Chili Bowl is different than any other race. It’s a different atmosphere and different when it comes to how you race there,” he continued. “It’s pretty impressive for us as a team to go out of the Expo with three rookie-of-the-year awards in a row.”
Despite the bad luck he endured, Wise cracked a smile and pointed out that he had speed, which is all you can ask for during an event the size and scope of the Chili Bowl Nationals.
“Even though we didn’t have the week I wanted, it was still a fun week,” said Wise. “Joey Saldana walked up to me and said, ‘Kid, I think you had the worst luck of any person in the building,’ and I feel like he was right. I was caught up in a lot of stuff that I couldn’t really do anything about. I was sitting fine in the B, and then they piled up on the backstretch, blocked the track and I had nowhere to go. It was just things like that … things that were out of anyone’s control on our team.
“If you take that stuff away, we had a great week. Next year, we’ll be in an even better position.”