Baseball Star C.J. Wilson Makes A Pitch For Racing

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Baseball star C. J. Wilson grew up as a race fan but with his athletic prowess, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pitch his way into college and on to professional baseball. For last five years, the Californian starred for the Texas Rangers and helped propel them to the 2011 World Series. And becoming a free agent at season’s end and with several teams vying for his services, he signed a five-year deal with the California Angels for a reported salary of $77.5 million.

During the 2011 season, Wilson’s career shined with a 16-7 won-loss record, a 2.94 ERA (seventh best in American League), and he helped the Rangers win the American League Division Series, the American League Championship Series, which put them into the World Series against the eventual winners, the St. Louis Cardinals. He also pitched in the 2011 All-Star game.

In his early years and before baseball, Wilson trailed his father to dirt tracks in southern California where the elder Wilson served as a mechanic for a sprint-car team. “I liked the noise and the elementary issues that came with it,” Wilson said during a press conference at the Daytona International Speedway. “I started liking cars when I was very young, and the first magazine I ever read was Road and Track.” With his interest in cars, his dad built him a go-kart, but his mother put her foot down, so his energies were devoted to baseball.

While he has gained fame as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher, few fans know that he is working his way through racing minor leagues as both a driver and a co-owner of sports cars. He has been to racing schools and competed in the lower rungs of racing, plus he and two others have formed a Mazda-powered team that will be competing full-time in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series. The team came to Daytona this week with two cars and four drivers (co-owner Jason Saini and NASCAR veteran Chad McCumbee and Bruce Ledoux II and Marc Miller). Competing in the Street Tuner class with a Mazda Speed 3 and a MX-5, they finished 15th and 33rd in class. Sponsors are ModSpace, Construction Corp., New Balance, Phiten and Forza 4.

Wilson’s baseball career keeps him away from race tracks but through DVR technology, he keeps up with his team’s exploits along with other racing series. “For the most part, baseball games overlap with race dates, particularly on weekends. I keep up with it via Twitter, Facebook and other means. Also, I have a simulator at home, which allows me to keep in shape. My passion for racing is very high,” he said.

Wilson’s baseball contracts prohibit racing but that doesn’t deter him. But he also realizes which sport pays the bills and isn’t willing to take extensive chances. “I know enough not to overextend myself,” he said, holding off on more advanced racing until his baseball career has ended. “Once baseball is finished, I will give racing more time. With sports-car racing, you can race until you have gray hair or no hair, and it allows you to have a future for a longer period than baseball does.”

Looking ahead, he added, “I want to move up slowly, respecting the process that drivers go through as they advance. The other drivers seem to respect the fact that I am willing to work my way up.” While he hasn’t interacted with other drivers extensively, he does have Patrick Dempsey’s telephone number.

The personable pitcher craves endurance races and competed recently and won the E1 class in the NASA 25-Hours of Thunderhill (Raceway Park) in northern California. He drove a Mazda MX-5. “I get a rush out of endurance racing as it is a team sport. It is not just one driver and one car. The synthesis of working with a team, a pit crew and the related strategy is fun,” he said.

Discussing his Thunderhill performance, team co-owner and driver Saini said, “C. J. drove superbly. I have known him for four or five years now, have helped with his cars, coached him and one thing led to another.” Juliann Pokorny is the team’s third co-owner.

Wilson’s baseball teammates don’t understand his enthusiasm for racing. “The first thing they say is, ‘How fast do you go?’ I tell them the scariest thing about racing is going side-by-side into a turn, trying to stay ahead of the other driver.”

Wilson doesn’t have time to work on cars nor to attend many races, other than those scheduled during the off-season, but he’s always available for moral support and motivation. When the BMW 200 (Continental event) took the green flag at Daytona, Wilson was standing on the pit wall with camera in hand. As a film major in college, he understands the art of photography and he shoots many of the photos displayed on the team’s web site.

While the team prepares for the season ahead, Wilson won’t be seen around race tracks. Instead, he will be preparing for the upcoming baseball season and keeping in contact with the team via telephone, email and his DVR. And through regular use of his simulator, the personable sports personality will be preparing for his future racing endeavors.

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