Mopar Sprint Car Nationals Key for Josh Wise
But in a sense Wise has already been discovered. He drives sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown machines owned by 2002 NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.
Since entering into aggressive programs as a team owner in various open-wheel divisions, Stewart has relied on experienced drivers such as Danny Lasoski, J.J. Yeley, Dave Steele, Cory Kruseman and Jay Drake, but Stewart changed his ways when he hired Wise to drive one of his midgets prior to the 2004 season.
"I needed a good driver for the midget team, but since I'm not able to go to all of the USAC races anymore, I did what a lot of the car owners in the Cup and Busch Series do, and that's pick up National Speed Sport News every week," Stewart explained. "I was reading a lot about Josh out on the West Coast, but when he won Belleville (Kan.) and then won at Knoxville (Iowa) in a midget, it showed me the kid wasn't scared to go fast.
"Everything that I had heard about him and everybody that I talked to about him said he was a good kid and somebody that they thought had a good future. I wanted to be a part of that."
Thus, Stewart gave Wise a chance to drive his Mopar-sponsored machines. It was truly a dream come true.."There's no question that it is the opportunity of a lifetime for me," Wise said. "Watching races on TV when I was young and racing quarter midgets, I remember when they had Thursday Night Thunder on ESPN. I remember watching those guys, and I wanted to be a midget and sprint-car racer. Of course, now that has changed, I want to go on to bigger and better things. But when I was young it was my dream to do exactly what I am doing right now."
Wise was winless in the 24-race USAC National Midget Car Series in his first season, but finished second in the point standings. As well, he won a pair of USAC National Sprint Car Series features.
The California-born racer, who now calls Indiana home, acknowledges there is additional pressure because he drives for Stewart.
"There's definitely that pressure that I have to perform up to par with our equipment," he said. "We have some of the best equipment out there and we need to go win races, run up front and be up front in points. At the same time, whether I am running this deal or I am running a car on the West Coast for someone, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do my best. In the end, I look at it like, if I go there and I've done my absolute best and given 100 percent, then that is all I can do."
While he is essentially a hired driver this season, Wise was very hands-on during his first season with Stewart, doing much of the mechanical work himself.
"I still do work on my cars, but not nearly as much as I did last year," Wise explained. "Last year I was almost doing the midget deal on my own. We had help and all, but I was doing a lot. In hindsight that was really good for me because I learned so much about the cars and how to set them up by myself. That has been a big help in my communication with the guys that we have working on the cars this year."
Still, his workload has been greater this year, as he has raced three types of cars.
"It's not that bad going back and forth from one car to another. You just kind of reset your mind and try to remember what that car is going to do and what it was like the last time you drove it," said Wise, who frequently drives in two divisions on the same night. "The sprint car to the Silver Crown isn't as big of a difference. The sprint car just has more horsepower. When you go from the sprint car to the midget, though, it is a big transition.
"The midget has such a short wheelbase and it is such a momentum car. I'll get out of the sprint car some nights and get into the midget and it feels like something is loose on the midget because it wants to twitch all over. It is fun to test how adaptable you are in a race car from one to the next."
Wise grew up in a racing family.
"My grandfather owned race cars, three-quarter midgets, so my dad grew up around it," he explained. "I grew up watching it on TV basically. My dad always had a NASCAR race on or an Indy car race or something.
"I was bugging him as long as I can remember to get me a go-kart or a quarter-midget," he continued. "When I was 7, I started racing quarter-midgets and I did that until I was 14 and then I moved up different steps from there to micro-midgets, three-quarter midgets and to full midgets on the West Coast."
And now he's preparing for his next progression-to stock cars.
"NASCAR is absolutely where I want to be, but at the same time I can't lose focus of what I am doing right now because what I am doing right now is what will potentially create those opportunities for me," said Wise. "My main goal is to go out and win races, and hopefully championships.
"If I am doing a good job, hopefully, the right opportunities will come my way."
The Mopar Sprint Car Nationals kicks off the UAW-GM Quality 500 weekend which culminates with round five of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
A limited number of SUPER Tickets are still available, allowing race fans to attend the UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event on Saturday night, Oct. 15; the Dollar General 300 NASCAR Busch Series race on Friday night, Oct. 14; Bojangles' Pole Night on Thursday night, Oct. 13; and the Mopar Sprint Car Nationals on Wednesday night, Oct. 12.
Priced at just $99, the SUPER Ticket represents a $64 savings if the same seats for the four races were purchased separately.
Call 1-800-455-FANS or click here to purchase tickets or obtain information about individual event tickets for all October events.