Before he had even laid eyes on The Dirt Track at IMS, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had already occupied a special place within the heart of Zeb Wise.
He’d been triumphant at the Battle at the Brickyard, a quarter midget race, and also became the first ever winner on The Dirt Track at IMS in 2018, where he snagged the Stoops Pursuit title.
After Thursday night’s victory at BC39, the track became the showcase for a defining moment in the 16-year-old racer’s burgeoning career where he led the final seven laps to score the biggest – and the richest – victory of his young career as he took home the title and $15,000.
One of the main influences on The Dirt Track at IMS becoming the grand event in just a short time was Bryan Clauson, the namesake of the BC39. Wise, out of Angola, Indiana, has carried BC's spirit onward, driving for Bryan’s father’s racing team, Clauson/Marshall where he piloted the No. 39BC car on the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship trail, which he put into victory lane in front of a large throng of spectators on this memorable late summer night.
Rewatch the final day of BC39:
Wise’s IMS story began when competing at The Battle at the Brickyard. It was there where Tim and Bryan Clauson noticed Wise who was already a racing star in his own right. Then when the time came, he was hand-picked by the Clausons to become a part of the team which lead him on the path to the biggest win of his career thus far.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but Bryan and Tim, the first time they noticed me was at the quarter midget track that they run called Little Brickyard,” Wise recalled. “That was the first time they ever got in contact with me. To carry over from the first time they saw me here, and now we’re out there winning big races, it’s very special not only to me, but probably even more special to the team.”
Wise was in a hurry to get things done from his fifth place starting spot at the drop of the green flag for the 39-lap main event. He whittled his way to second place past Kevin Thomas, Jr. after the two clipped bumpers off of turn four when Thomas snagged the curb. Wise set up shop, went to the bottom and slid up in front of Thomas to pocket the runner-up spot.
Pole sitter Thomas Meseraull remained in control up front, keeping Wise in check by a handful of car lengths until the 18th lap. That’s when a four-car quagmire ensued with Tucker Klaasmeyer flipping upside down, followed by Jerry Coons, Jr. plowing into Klaasmeyer and getting put on his lid as well. Gio Scelzi and Cannon McIntosh also became entangled in the fray.
That’s where it nearly came to a premature end for Meseraull, who made a hard left to avoid clipping the stopped car of McIntosh. Wise, who was just behind Meseraull, took evasive action as well, narrowly missing the other cars.
On the ensuing restart Wise gained a full head of steam coming downhill off the top of turn two to zip by Meseraull for the race lead as Jason McDougal and Kyle Larson came in tandem to go to second and third to sent Meseraull to fourth. A three-car chase at the front saw Larson go topside around McDougal to take over second place and pounce when Wise bobbled atop the fourth turn cushion.
Rewatch night 1 of BC39:
Larson instantaneously pointed his nose to the bottom and used a major run to slide across the nose of Wise and into turn one, securing the lead off turn two. Moments later, however, Michael Pickens’ car came to a stop in turn four, sending Larson back to second and returned Wise to the head of the field for the restart.
As he had done all throughout the night, Wise was a force on restarts. He was able to stretch it out to a half-straight lead by the back stretch on the lap 21 resumption. Nonetheless, Larson leashed Wise back in quickly and clamped down on the shadow of Wise with less than 15 laps remaining.
On lap 28, Wise biked in turn three atop the cushion, which was basically an extension of the outside concrete wall at that point. It was seemingly no harm, no foul, as Larson got on the binders to avoid contact with Wise. Both kept their foot in it and put their wills on the razor’s edge as Larson attempted to slide Wise in turn one. With just enough room to fit the width of a midget and the thickness of two dimes between them, Wise never wavered from the top. He kept his right foot on the hammer and escaped through the other side of the needle to hang onto the spot just before early race leader Meseraull flipped in turns three and four, concluding a promising run for the high-point man who led a race-high 18 laps.
On the following restart all broke loose again with Larson taking his run at Wise with a slider into turn three. By the time the two arrived at the exit of turn four, there wasn't any room to spare. The two made contact, sending Wise ramping up the wall and landing on all fours while defending BC39 winner Brady Bacon snuck by on the bottom from fourth to first past McDougal, Larson and Wise, ripping the lead away on lap 29.
Larson then slowed with a flat left rear tire to force a yellow flag, putting Wednesday’s Stoops Pursuit winner/survivor out of contention for the win. Larson ended up with a ninth-place finish. Meanwhile, Wise’s mind was racing with concern over whether his race was in jeopardy, admitting he thought his race was over after the contact.
“I knew something was wrong,” Wise admitted. “Heck, I couldn’t even hold it straight down the straightaways. I knew something was going on. We had a red flag there and the push truck driver came to me and I said, ‘Dude, what is wrong with the front end?’ He looked it over and said, ‘Looks like you have a bent steering arm.’ At that point, I knew it wasn’t something serious, and that I didn’t need to pull off the track because it was going to be a hazard or anything.”
Following a lap 31 red flag for a McIntosh flip between turns three and four, Wise’s curiosity grew stronger as he pondered what could be wrong with his car.
Experiencing a handful of issues with his steering wheel, in addition to the flurry of action surrounding him, Wise overcame and persevered. He utilized a lap 33 slide to overtake Bacon for the lead and bring CMR teammate Chris Windom along with him on the bottom.
The race changed its complexion frequently and without hesitation. FMR Racing teammates Bacon and McDougal drifted back to fifth and sixth place where they tangled on the front straightaway on lap 35. This ended the team’s bid for a repeat BC39 victory.
Rewatch Kyle Larson's wild win on the first night of BC39:
Racing resumed with Wise and Windom continuing their side-by-side joust as Christopher Bell entered the ring and was challenging both for the lead. He followed Wise on the high side of turn three where he bounced and buoyed his way atop of the turn with three laps to go, He bounced the left side of his roll cage off the track surface before springing back up and landing on all fours this put a premature end to Bell's bid for a win with front end damage.
Wise used another strong restart to gain separation on lap 37 ahead of CMR teammates Windom and Courtney (who started 20th). Windom on the low line and Courtney up top dug in during their proverbial fist fight for the runner-up spot. Windom began a slow fade as the bottom started to get slick. Courtney found the traction up top to pull ahead coming to the white flag.
This is where Wise put an end to the dramatics. He stamped his name in Indianapolis Motor Speedway lore on the final lap as he nailed the entry and exit at each end of the racetrack on the 39th circuit to win by 0.372 seconds over Courtney, Windom, Chad Boat and Logan Seavey.
After beginning the season with mixed results, Wise has won three of the last five in USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget competition. But none of them were bigger than the one he earned Thursday night at IMS.
“We’ve been on such a hot streak lately,” Wise said. “It doesn’t matter where we go, you know we’re a factor. When we came off that hot streak in Pennsylvania, I knew this was going to be the one that would really show what we’ve got, and we got it done.”
Contingency Award Winners:
- Tyler Thomas (Simpson Race Products First Qualifier Winner)
- Zeb Wise (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Qualifier Winner)
- Christopher Bell (AutoMeter Third Heat Qualifier Winner)
- Dillon Welch (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Qualifier Winner)
- Tyler Courtney (B & W Auto Mart/KSE Racing Products Hard Charger)
- Michael Pickens (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher)
- Cannon McIntosh (Duane & Sonja Alexander Last Transfer)
- Sam Johnson (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer)
- Jesse Colwell (Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Rookie of The Race & ProSource Passing Master)