TULSA, Okla. – If Zeb Wise didn’t already have enough momentum going into the 33rd annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals after the announcement of his new sponsor last week, he certainly has plenty now.
Wise is basking in the glow of winning his first Golden Driller, and with good reason. The 16-year-old won the Outlaw Non-Wing class feature on Saturday at Tulsa Expo Raceway, dominating the feature by leading from start to finish after starting from the pole.
The win was Wise’s first in 11 A-main attempts across all classes at the Tulsa Shootout. That stellar performance, combined with the addition of Driven2SaveLives onto his Clauson-Marshall Racing midget entry for the full season, gives the rising star ample reason to smile entering next week’s Chili Bowl.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Wise said of his big victory. “This is a journey that’s been three years and 11 A-mains in the making. To say that we finally have a Golden Driller from the Tulsa Shootout is pretty incredible. I had an absolute blast racing for Ten-J Chassis and the Pursley Motorsports family, and I hope the best is still to come because the big show is still in front of us.”
Wise was all smiles throughout Tulsa Shootout week. He was the only driver to successfully qualify for all four of the major micro-sprint features held on Saturday night and his Outlaw Non-Wing effort was easily the most thorough performance among the seven class victors.
The Angola, Ind., native noted that his equipment made the difference in this case.
“That race on Saturday was so much fun. The car made it easy,” said Wise of his No. 10z Outlaw Non-Wing entry. “When I would take it off into the corner, it would drive itself. It’s easily the best non-winged car I’ve had there.
“Even our winged car … to do what we did and go from 18th to a top five in 55 laps (in Outlaw Winged action) was huge. All in all, this year’s Tulsa Shootout was an amazing opportunity and I’m still trying to take it all in, to be honest with you.”
Heading into his first Chili Bowl experience, Wise is optimistic that his recent success at the Tulsa Shootout will bode well for his chances to have a strong rookie year in the Super Bowl of Midget Racing.
Wise is scheduled to qualify during the opening preliminary night of the six-day affair on Monday.
“To have a Driller and all the extra track time from running four classes under my belt will help me a lot, I think,” Wise said. “Winning helps my confidence a ton and it changes your mental game a little bit, I feel like, once you prove that you’re capable of winning and standing up on that stage.
“It’s not about anything translating between the two cars, because I’ve ran a midget and I’ve ran a micro and the cars aren’t really similar, but it’s about having laps,” explained Wise. “Most of the guys who are coming in and running Chili Bowl haven’t seen that track in a full year, unlike myself and a few others who will have just been on it a week or so earlier. I think it’s going to help more than people think.”
Before he gets back out to Tulsa however, Wise is spending a week at home relaxing and, yes, showing off the newest addition to his trophy collection.
“I went straight to my sister’s house and everyone – my sister, my brother-in-law, my grandma – everyone wanted to see it right away,” Wise laughed. “I showed it off to them first, but now it (the Driller) is just sitting on my dining room table, chilling.
“My mom loves it there, actually. Now we just need another one like it here in about two weeks.”
Wise did point out that while he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to earn that second trophy just because he has one now, he wants to have a strong showing and prove that he belongs among the heavy-hitters that will be attempting to make the championship A-main at the Chili Bowl in their own rights.
“There’s always pressure when you walk in the Expo Center, and I do feel that with two years of midget experience and the time I’ve put in at the Shootout, there’s some pressure to perform on my shoulders,” Wise admitted. “Hopefully I can just play the week smart and not make too many mistakes.
“Locking in would be my biggest goal,” he said. “If I can do that, the rest of my week will be a lot easier.”