CJ Wilson has some big dreams in motorsports – racing and winning at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But before he gets there, he has to start a little smaller. There’s also the matter of his day job as a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to consider.
“It’s more important to do well where we’re at,” he says of working through what is essentially the Single A of professional racing. “The most important thing is to get a feel for the young guys we have in MX-5 Cup, whether it’s Joey Bickers, the [Mazda Club Racer] Shootout winner…. We’ve got Devin Jones and Patrick Gallagher, really talented as well. We’re just trying to get a feeling for what their limit is, how high they can fly. So we’re really just trying to give them the best instruction, give them the best platform to go out there and win.
“The [IMSA Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge] team, we’d like to win a championship with those guys. We feel like we’ve developed the car so much. We’ve found more horsepower, better handling, better brakes … a lot of different things to keep the car running better. The drivers as well, where they can just hop in the car and run fast right away,” he continues.
Wilson has made his desire to compete at Le Mans clear. He has cited Roger Penske and Patrick Dempsey as racers to emulate in terms of building a team and progressing through the ranks. He also knows that his approach must be measured.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s great to dream of my far-off goal of going to Le Mans, winning Le Mans. From a touring car team to Le Mans, it’s a really big step and millions of dollars, so we have to make sure that we do it the right way,” he says.
“The business side is really the key, figuring out a way from the car dealerships and the outside partnerships we have – whether it’s Head & Shoulders or a tire company like Continental – to figure out a way to jump to the next spot and work our way up. ModSpace has been really huge for us. It’s pretty cool that we can make use of these partnerships, not just look at them as a sponsor, a dollar sign…they’re definitely partners, so we can help them grow and they can help us grow. Looking at it as a standalone entity, it needs to be able to survive. If we just go out and rush into a new class without being fully prepared financially and mechanically, it’s just going to be a waste of money.”
In terms of his own involvement as a driver, as an athlete right now he has to concentrate on baseball. But when he does return to driving in earnest – he’s done some SCCA Club Racing and the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill – he knows he’s got some makeup work to do.
“I think if I stepped into a Continental Tire car or MX-5 Cup, I could do OK,” he says. “But I probably would want to do something that’s more selfish and race something that’s just about me, and not have to work together with a teammate just yet, because I think it’s critical that I get as much seat time as I can, to catch up for the lost time. So I probably would do a spec series like IMSA Lites or USF2000. I did a lot of open-wheel stuff before and I think that helps me the most. I would probably do that because it helps accelerate the growth process a little bit. Even if it’s more difficult, I would get more out of it.”