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Saturday, June 22, 2024

From the Diamond to the Racetrack: The Story of CJ Wilson Racing

CJ Wilson Racing Drivers Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kuno Wittmer piloted the Acura NSX GT3 in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

CJ Wilson Racing Drivers Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kuno Wittmer piloted the Acura NSX GT3 in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. (Photo via IMSA)

Recognize the name C.J. Wilson? Chances are that you do. After all, he had an 11-year Major League Baseball career and now owns CJ Wilson Racing, which competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The question is, how he did get to that point?

“I developed a love for cars at a young age,” said Wilson, who spent time with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “My dad got me into them, and I started racing go-karts before having an accident. My parents felt it was too dangerous, and it got to be really expensive, so I hung up the helmet at age six. From there, I realized I was pretty good at baseball and could create my own destiny. As a bold eight-­year-old, I set my life on that and kept my love of baseball and cars going.”

His athletic talents eventually led him to the baseball diamond, where he was drafted by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Draft. Wilson won 94 games in his career and struck out more than 1,000 hitters while making the All-Star team in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012.

C.J. Wilson, founder of the race team that bears his likeness, spent 11 years as a Major League Baseball pitcher and made two All-Star teams. (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

He retired from baseball at the start of the 2017 season. Since then, his full attention has been on CJ Wilson Racing.

Wilson actually started the organization the year before he made his first All-Star team. His intention was to build the race team and also have car dealerships to sustain his post-baseball income.

“I’m not a sit around and do nothing type of guy,” said Wilson. “I love cars and I looked at race team owners like Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, and others. I saw that they ran successful dealerships, too, and I said to myself, ‘They’re doing what I want to do.’ Both the dealerships and the team have benefitted from one another.”

Wilson noted there wasn’t just one person or one statement of advice that stuck with him as he juggled running dealerships throughout California, Arizona, and Illinois and running a race team. Instead, multiple people in the industry have told him to follow his passion.

“I’ve had friends with an outside perspective, and they just keep telling me to follow my passion. If you’re not passionate about something, chances are that sooner or later you’ll walk away from it. Within the sport, Bill Riley is someone I’ve talked to a lot. He’s been the one team guy that has given me a lot of advice. I’m taking the knowledge he has passed along with a lot of respect.”

Continued Wilson: “While this story is eight years old for me, we’re a brand new team to most people. I’ve approached things slowly and tactfully, which is how I’ve done things my whole life.”

The team dates back to 2010 when it debuted in the Mazda MX-­‐5 Cup and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Five years later, the team was crowned champions in the Street Tuner class of the Continental Tire Challenge.

As most people would guess, running a race team requires both time and money.

“It’s time-consuming,” said the two­‐time All­‐Star. “I spent just as much time working on the race team as I devoted to my baseball career. I’m blessed, though, to have a family that loves racing and cars. My wife recently got her racing license, and I was able to race some during my career as well.”

Through the years, the team has formed partnerships with major brands like Unit Nutrition, Sonic tools, Alpinestars and New Balance.

“I’ve done a lot of hands-on work with the race team,” said Wilson. “We’re working really hard to eventually go global and having someone here like Andrus (Laivins) as team manager has really benefited the organization.”

Although Wilson hung up the helmet as child, he was able to race some during his career. His most notable racing moment? Winning the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2010. Most recently, he raced in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.

While Wilson has an endurance win under his belt, his team competed less than two weeks ago at the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Drivers Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kuno Wittmer piloted the team’s Acura NSX GT3 to a 34th-­‐place finish in the Mobil I 12 Hours of Sebring.

“In this sport, nobody expects anything from us yet,” said Wilson. “We’re the underdog. Nobody says that we’ll be there at the end of each race, but we have high expectations for ourselves. Our crew has been through a lot together, and the group is very levelheaded. For endurance races, strategy benefits us.”

As for the future, Wilson expects his team to stay in IMSA and has no plans to branch out to NASCAR or other forms of motorsports.

“The IMSA competition is tough,” said Wilson. “We’re dealing with owners who have done this their whole life. The challenge is part of the fun though; it’s what keeps bringing us back to the track. We have a lot to prove as a team and are excited to prove ourselves to our competitors.”

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next races at Long Beach on Saturday, April 14 (4 p.m. on FOX), with the CJ Wilson Racing team looking to make its next start at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 6.

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