KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Even before he stepped up to the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series, Zeb Wise said his ultimate goal was to go sprint car racing with the World of Outlaws.
Saturday night, he’ll take the first major step towards that dream, competing in Knoxville Raceway’s 360 sprint car division with Baughman-Reutzel Motorsports, driving team co-owner Josh Baughman’s No. 17.
It’s the same entry that NASCAR Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell wheeled during a pair of World of Outlaws races earlier this spring at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, but to Wise, it represents much more than just a race car.
This opportunity represents Wise’s first chance at something he’s wanted for his entire life.
“This is pretty cool,” Wise told SPEED SPORT. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing and imagined myself doing since I was five years old. To sit in the seat of a sprint car, not to mention doing so with one of the most well-known teams around, is really special.
“I’m excited, especially to get to start things off at Knoxville,” he added. “As a kid, I watched the Knoxville Nationals as a kid and know how special an event it is and how special this place is. Knoxville is hallowed ground, and I can’t wait to get things going … both this weekend and going down the road.”
Wise’s connection with the Baughman-Reutzel team came about through an “undercover” test, as the 16-year-old called it, held last year at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway prior to an All Star Circuit of Champions event at the Indiana bullring.
It was during that test that Wise not only impressed Baughman, but made the Odessa, Texas veteran want to put a deal together and get Wise in one of his race cars again.
“We’ve been working on this for a while,” Baughman told SPEED SPORT. “Ever since we practiced with him at Kokomo, we’ve wanted to get a schedule together with him that fit within his midget obligations. We want to get him in the car as much as he’s able to when he has the time in his calendar. He wasn’t old enough last year to drive, but we knew he had the talent and wanted to see what he could do.
“Him being with Clauson-Marshall (Racing) … he’s learned a lot already and he’s going to be a great driver, I feel like, even more so than he already is,” Baughman continued. “He really impressed me, my crew chief and my guys last year, especially considering he had never been in a sprint car before that night. He got in there, felt comfortable and within a couple laps, was on pace with the other 410 guys.
“It’s going to be interesting to get him out there with a full field of cars, but I believe he’ll do just fine.”
Wise was quick to point out that while he’s only had one experience so far in a winged sprint car, racing those beasts is nothing like the national midgets he’s gotten used to over the past 15 months.
“For anyone who was wondering, midgets are absolutely nothing like winged sprint cars,” Wise stressed with a chuckle. “The way that they drive, you barely move your hands. I was told really quickly to lock my elbows, and that is 100 percent true. Once you lock your elbows by the seat, you don’t really move them, where in a midget you’re all over the wheel.
“Sprint cars turn themselves and you just have to keep the pedal down.”
Both Baughman and Wise confirmed that the current plan is to run a schedule of “roughly 10-13 races,” divided between both 360 and 410 competition, and that none of those events will conflict with any of his USAC obligations with the Clauson-Marshall Racing midget operation.
Many of the early races in that span will be at Knoxville, with an eye at looking towards All Star and touring competition later in the year, as Wise’s learning curve in the winged cars progresses.
As far as Wise’s goal for Saturday night goes, his self-assigned task is simple: make the show and finish.
“This is about me getting used to the car and the team connecting with me,” Wise noted. “I have to figure out how the track develops and we’ll go from there. If I can say I made the show in my first attempt at Knoxville, I’d be completely happy with that.
“I want to enjoy this night too, though, because you only get to make your sprint car debut once, so I’m hoping to soak it all in and have as much fun as I can while we’re trying to put up a solid result.”