The month of March kicks off CJ Wilson’s day job season, as left-handed starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
But his passion always starts earlier. January kicked off another season for CJ Wilson Racing, as the team will again campaign two Mazda MX-5s in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class.
The 2013 season was a breakthrough for CJWR in CTSC, as the pairing of Marc Miller and Stevan McAleer won two races.
McAleer took victory on the last lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas in March; the pair followed it up with a win at Watkins Glen in June. They finished seventh in points at year’s end.
For 2014, the team has opted to switch its driver pairings up that concluded the 2013 season. Miller switches from the team’s No. 5 to pair with Tyler McQuarrie in the No. 3 Head & Shoulders-backed car, while Chad McCumbee switches across from the No. 3 to the No. 5 ModSpace MX-5 with McAleer.
“Putting them in separate cars isn’t any different,” Wilson told Sportscar365. “The MX-5 provides a great handling platform. And for us, it allows our two newer guys the opportunity to pair with a couple guys who’ve already had some success on the way up.”
McQuarrie, of Danville, Calif., has a high volume of sports car and open-wheel experience to go along with his drifting background. Meanwhile McCumbee, of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., is a NASCAR convert who scored his first CTSC pole at the Austin round last year.
During the 2013 season, McQuarrie replaced Jason Saini at Watkins Glen in the team’s No. 3 entry. So for 2014, McCumbee will be able to have a full-season opportunity with the same co-driver.
Holland, Mich.’s Miller is also a driver coach, and McAleer, a Scotsman, was the 2012 SCCA Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup series champion prior to his CTSC promotion a year ago.
“From a strategy standpoint now, it really helps for us to craft a season-long strategy,” Wilson said. “After last year, now everyone knows what to expect from each other and the team.”
Because there were the highs of the two wins in 2013, Wilson is bullish on the team’s prospects for 2014. The MX-5 provides a stable platform and excels at the handling tracks.
“We have really big expectations based on how we did last year,” he said. “But based on others from Daytona, other teams in the paddock aren’t standing still. We’ve found some time in the car in setup and mechanical adjustments that we’ve made.”
Besides the CTSC team, the CJWR MX-5 program will continue into 2014 with a four-driver lineup. Stock car convert Devin Jones and 2013 Team USA Scholarship and Mazda MX-5 Cup Club Racer Shootout winner Joey Bickers are new additions, with Patrick Gallagher returning for his second season. Charles Paquin races in the team’s fourth car.
Wilson, whose other interests include photography and operating a Mazda dealership in Chicago (CJ Wilson Mazda), is also confident about the direction sports car racing is heading as a whole.
He’s built his team methodically, and although he has a passion for driving, knows he can’t do it frequently because of his baseball commitments and contract.
That made his return to the cockpit for a couple stints in a Mazda6 diesel at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill this past December, after a couple-year hiatus, all the sweeter.
“I did a couple stints. One was about four hours from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m,” he said. “I hadn’t been on a track in a long time, so I felt a bit rusty for an hour. But it’s Thunderhill, and I’ve done like 2,000 laps there, so it was fun to be back out there.”
Wilson, whose ultimate racing dream is to take his team to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, only wishes he could race more often.
“I’m bummed I don’t get to race more to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s so much fun. It’s a cool team exercise. The more I’m around racing, the harder it is to walk away.”