CJ Wilson: “I’m Making Up For Lost Time”

Photo: CJ Wilson Racing

Photo: CJ Wilson Racing

CJ Wilson embarked on the next stage of his professional athletic career in earnest last week with a globe-trotting program that saw him driving two cars on two continents and culminated with his race debut in the IMSA Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series at Sebring.

The former Major League Baseball pitcher has turned his full focus on his motorsports activities and his many car dealerships, trading his flame-throwing pitching arm in for fire-spewing sports cars in 2017 and beyond.

The two-time MLB All-Star started his Sebring race week in the UK testing a United Autosports Ligier JS P3 Nissan that he will be campaigning in the Henderson Insurance LMP3 Cup Championship this season, then caught an overnight flight to Sebring to embark on his new driving career and oversee his two Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport cars in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

It was a whirlwind week, but one that Wilson had clearly enjoyed as he tries to make up for lost time relative to his new competition.

“To be able to drive two race cars at two completely unfamiliar tracks on two different continents in the same week, that’s pretty cool,” Wilson told Sportscar365 on the grid prior to the Sebring 120.

“The business side of it is I’m obviously running the dealerships and all that, and I’ve really got to make sure I’m doing a good job there. But the real key for me is really to figure out how to improve as much as I can in the next calendar year.

“I wasn’t really able to go full out when I was playing baseball because basically the whole summer I couldn’t do any track days. So other than playing Xbox or PlayStation, there really wasn’t much that I could get.

“Now that I’m able to do a track day on a Tuesday, test on a Wednesday, race, or something like that, I’m approaching it the same way everybody else is. I’m just doing what all these other guys are trying to do now.

“I’m trying to make up for lost time a little bit by driving a little bit extra.

“I’d say it’s probably adequate for me to just do [Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Challenge] this year, but the reality is that I’ve got to do 50 percent more work per week, per month, or whatever just to catch up with the level that I needed to be at.”

Wilson is not shy about the future he envisions for his team, which has been competing in some form or fashion since its formation in late 2010, and his nascent driving career.

The goal is for both team and driver to reach the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but Wilson remains pragmatic about timeline.

“I’d really like to have the option at least to possibly run [the Rolex 24 at] Daytona next year and just be on the pace enough to contribute to a team at that level, whether that’s our team or another team or whatever,” said Wilson.

“I’ve got to grow a lot as a driver, and the only way to do that is to drive more, race more, and get more practice in and maybe in a different car sometimes.

“That’s our goal. We’ve got to make a lot of different cases for it, not only with the drivers that we have, but also the business side of it.

“Running a [GT Daytona] program is a big step, but I think if we do that, we’re looking at this long term.

“We want to be sustainable team, we want to create these partnerships with people that notice how attractive our team is to the media to be able to get more of their product in front of people.”

While GTD is the goal, Wilson acknowledged that a continued presence in the Continental Tire Challenge series remains an item of interest into the future if the business and racing aspects align.

“The biggest thing that we need to figure out is: is there going to be a customer-level program that makes sense to sustain under our pro-level program,” he said.

“If there is a case for it and we are able to scale up employee-wise, then we would do it. It would be difficult to do it with our current amount of people because we would need to hire an entire new team of people.

“You can’t really work people that hard. If they’re running a TCR car or a GS car at the same time they are running a GTD car in a 12-hour race the same weekend. There’s just too much workload. We have to really find a way to balance that stuff out.

“And that’s all part of the process where maybe next year it might make sense to do some GS races, some [Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup] races, or whatever balance.

“That’s kind of our intention right now, to get into the other paddock eventually and eventually go to Europe to race Le Mans.”

Wilson said he views his efforts to reach the big leagues of endurance sports car racing very much in the same way a baseball player reaches the top of that sport: with gradual steps up the ladder.

“We’ll get there eventually just like we got here eventually,” he said. “You can’t skip any steps. If you skip steps in this kind of sport then you’re going to have a lot of hardship.

“You’re better off just making slow, steady progress than jumping in too deep too early.”

11 Comments

  1. juandefoldgit

    March 24, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Far and away the smartest man in Manor Texas

  2. Olly

    March 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Good stuff, I’ve always wanted to see Cj in sports cars full time, and he’s going about it in the right way. All the best to him!

  3. Kdawg

    March 24, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    This is exactly what I predicted from CJ and I think if he does the business side direct it could all work out for for him to realize his dreams.

  4. SE30ASport

    March 24, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    I think he’s got a lot of potential as an owner in IMSA/sports car racing, and maybe even as a well rounded part of a pro-am driver program too. I look forward to following the progression.

  5. CJ Wilson

    March 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this- far cry from having to grit my teeth to answer bad post game questions!

    I’m really surprised more dealers are not “race oriented” as each race weekend is like a huge trade show in the IMSA paddock for us.

    • el_gordo

      March 25, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Gotta check out iRacing bro, their newest Porsche cup car is fantastic, don’t take my word for it, google Nicki Thiim’s youtube account for his take on it

    • Anthony Blair Thomas

      March 27, 2017 at 6:06 am

      CJ because they rather the OEM’s do it… Many dealers take their wealth and go racing but at the Sportsman/Grassroots level because again it takes cubic dollars to do many of the big series, like say Indy Car.

      Not only that they like being the big fish in a small pond. Best car, equipment and team, overwhelm the competition and take home the goodies to post on the walls of their dealerships to shout “Hey look what I did”.

      IMHO one of the reasons the Conti series struggles to get a foothold in the national debate about racing is directly because the lack of dealership interest.

    • NASCAR/DPs Suck

      March 28, 2017 at 11:03 am

      CJ, good luck in your endeavors and hope to see you in the “big leagues” sooner than later.

    • Timothy Harris

      April 9, 2017 at 10:58 am

      I drove through the Sierra foothills with you a few weeks ago
      Sorry 1st Gen broke
      Had to limp her home
      Just a coolant cap defect
      Ready to do it again
      Best of Luck CJ
      Timothy

  6. jmcn R

    March 25, 2017 at 1:50 am

    I loved watching racing even up to the 80s when you had alot of these celebrities and other persons who when they found themselves financially available they eventually pursued the dream of racing. It created a nice mix of personalities and put cars and interesting sponsors out there.

    With guys like CJ, McDreamy, Letterman and formerly Pickett it looks like we are going back to the days of Cevert, Newman & Dean. Inspiring.

  7. Timothy Harris

    April 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

    🏎

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