INDIANAPOLIS — In perhaps the most storybook of endings imaginable, Zeb Wise channeled his late mentor Bryan Clauson and raced to the biggest win of his career Thursday night at The Dirt Track at IMS.
Wise, the 16-year-old standout from Angola, Ind., who was Clauson’s final pick as a development driver before his untimely passing in August of 2016, took the checkered flag in the second annual Driven2SaveLives BC39 powered by NOS Energy Drink — the race honoring Clauson’s life and legacy.
He charged to the lead on a lap-19 restart, with a textbook over-under slide job on polesitter and early pacesetter Thomas Meseraull, and then battled back past defending event winner Brady Bacon in the closing laps after losing the lead due to contact with NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson.
Wise made the winning pass with seven laps left, diving to Bacon’s inside on the approach to turn one and making a gutsy slider stick, then held off Clauson-Marshall Racing teammates Tyler Courtney and Chris Windom on a series of late restarts for the fourth win of his USAC National Midget Series career.
It was Wise’s third triumph of the season, following a pair of Pennsylvania Midget Week scores, but it was easily his most meaningful because of the added aspect of the team he’s driven for since 2017.
“Oh man, I don’t even have any words right now,” a dazed Wise said in victory lane after pocketing a $15,000 payday. “ This is … for this team, it’s the ultimate. It’s what we came here for, to honor Bryan and what he meant, and I can’t believe that we’re standing here right now and we parked it. He meant so much to all of us. It’s unreal.”
Though Wise was seemingly untouchable during the middle third of the race, it was inside of 15 to go that Larson – who got to second at the halfway point – began inching closer and closer to the No. 39bc.
The battle finally came to a head with 11 laps left, when Larson pitched his Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports No. 97 into turn three in an attempt to slide Wise for the top spot and didn’t clear him.
At that point, Wise and Larson’s cars collided, with Wise riding the wall for a few moments before nudging down and continuing – much like Logan Seavey at Pennsylvania’s Lanco Speedway a year ago.
Larson, however, cut a left-rear tire and ground to a halt, seeing his bid for a sweep of the week come to an end after he won the Stoops Pursuit on Wednesday night in thrilling fashion.
Afterward, Wise explained how that one moment nearly cost him the entire race.
“Larson and I got together there, and it’s unfortunate too, because I think we would have a hell of a battle … just like we did earlier this year,” Wise noted. “But after that, I actually had a bent steering arm, and absolutely had to manhandle that thing … not just around the corners, but even down the straightaways. I’m sure some people thought I was crazy from what I was having to do to keep it going.
“I couldn’t hardly turn it at times; I really wasn’t sure how we were going to hold on to the finish.”
In all of that chaos, defending BC39 winner Brady Bacon snuck past both Wise and Larson to take the lead on lap 29, moments before Larson’s flat tire led to the first of three late, game-changing yellows.
The restart with 10 to go saw third-running Christopher Bell, who won the B-main and started 17th, fail in a bid to take second from Wise, but a flip one lap later by Cannon McIntosh reset the order again.
When the green flag waved with eight to go, Wise turned up the wick and made his final move. He stayed in Bacon’s tire tracks for a full lap before ducking to Bacon’s inside in turn one and making a daring slide job attempt for the lead and the victory.
His guts and persistence paid off handsomely.
Wise wrested the lead away for good at that point, with Bacon’s time at the front ending with four to go after he and his FMR Racing teammate, Jason McDougal, tangled on the frontstretch to bring out the final caution of the night.
That left Wise out front ahead of Clauson-Marshall teammates Chris Windom and Tyler Courtney for a four-lap dash to the finish, and though both took shots at their young protégé, neither could get past.
Courtney came the closest, slipping past Windom on the top groove to secure second at the finish, while Windom crossed third to complete an all-CMR podium at the race honoring their co-team owner’s son.
Chad Boat finished fourth and Logan Seavey completed the top five, while Jesse Colwell came from the D-main, took a provisional and raced from 24th to sixth to earn rookie-of-the-race honors.
Polesitter Meseraull flipped in turn three with 11 to go to set up the wild turn of events at the end.
After the team’s podium sweep, Wise tipped what it is that made his team’s motivation so strong.
“We’re just all one big family back there,” said Wise of his Clauson-Marshall squad. “It just shows what Bryan can do and has left with these guys. With him and Doug Boles and Scott Petry setting this whole race up, it’s absolutely unbelievable.
“To be a winner of it, I don’t have any words, man.”
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.
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