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.”