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Top Moments of 2019 - #7: Teen Wise Takes BC39

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Everyone who follows USAC racing knew Zeb Wise was something special. But did they know he was this good?

In early August 2018, Wise became the youngest National Series feature winner in the 63-year history of USAC when he won a USAC Midget race in Newmantown, Pennsylvania. He was 15 years, 8 months and 21 days old.

That was just a start.

About one month later, Wise used a classic “slide job” on the second-to-last lap to win the Stoops Pursuit race on the opening night of action for the inaugural Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink at The Dirt Track at IMS. Wise drove the No. 39BC car fielded by Clauson-Marshall Racing, co-owned by the father of late USAC champion and Indianapolis 500 veteran Bryan Clauson, the event’s namesake.

Wise held off a strong field that included NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse and J.J. Yeley. The exhibition race victory proved the talent that Tim and Bryan Clauson first spotted when Wise was 11, hired him to help the team at age 13 and hired him a year later as a development driver for the team shortly after Bryan tragically lost his life just a few weeks before in a racing accident.

Angola, Indiana, native Wise entered this year’s Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink as a candidate for victory at the ripe, old age of 16. But this year’s field was even more stacked, with nearly a third of the 90 entered drivers boasting at least one USAC National Midget victory during their careers.

There were USAC champions scattered everywhere in the pits outside Turns 1 and 2 of The Dirt Track, including USAC Triple Crown winner J.J. Yeley, defending race winner Brady Bacon, rising NASCAR star Christopher Bell, Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney, Logan Seavey, Dave Darland, Jerry Coons Jr., Tyler Courtney, Spencer Bayston, Tanner Thorson and Russ Gamester.

And everyone had their eyes peeled on former USAC standout and current NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson, making his BC39 debut. Larson loves every chance he can get to race on the dirt and was deflated when a scheduling conflict prevented his participation in the inaugural event in September 2018.

But after a thrilling 39-lap feature, the terrific teen Wise stood atop the No. 39BC in celebration. The stirring victory defined his young career and also left few dry eyes among the Clauson-Marshall team and many of the capacity crowd under the lights at the quarter-mile oval.

Wise prevailed after a thrilling four-lap shootout with two of his Clauson-Marshall Racing teammates, Tyler Courtney and Chris Windom. Courtney finished second and Windom third.

Wise started fifth and quickly jumped to second behind pole-sitter Thomas Meseraull. A caution with 21 laps to go in the 39-lap feature bunched the field, and on the restart, Wise shot to the lead with uncanny anticipation of the green flag.

He held the lead through to another caution, but lurking behind him was the previous night’s Stoops Pursuit winner Larson, who rallied through the field after starting 16th. On the restart, Wise bolted to a five-car length lead, forcing Larson to chase.

With 12 laps to go, Wise held off Larson in a sizzling battle for the lead. Then, the two drivers made contact in Turn 2. Wise was riding the cushion of dirt against the outside wall and forced Larson to make the pass on the bottom. When Larson made the pass, he slid into Wise’s car.

At the same time, another caution came out, and the battle between Wise and Larson continued.

This time Larson didn’t let Wise escape on the restart. Larson dove to the bottom in Turns 3 and 4 to pass Wise, who was still riding the high line. As Larson made the pass, Wise caught the wall. Larson and Wise made hard contact, cutting Larson’s left rear tire and ended his night and dream of a sweep of both races this week on the quarter-mile dirt oval in the IMS infield.

Wise kept second place behind 2018 BC39 winner Bacon, but the contact bent Wise’s steering arm, setting him up for a long remainder of the night as he manhandled his car.

Bacon held the lead for four laps under green, but Wise jumped back into the lead for good with seven laps remaining.

You know BC was smiling.

 
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