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Interview: CJ Wilson – Racer, Pitcher, Petrolhead Part 3
The following is part 3 of our interview with CJ Wilson, pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and all-around petrolhead. When CJ isn’t pitching, he’s attending to his cars, whether they be on track or in his garage.
Oh, and remember all those unbelievable numbers you’ve been hearing about the new McLaren P1? CJ has one on order. So check out part 2 of the interview below, it’s quite a good one. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Enjoy Part 3.
Andrew: I noticed that you guys have a lot of relatively young talent on your team. The “young guns” as you called them. What do you usually look for, when looking for a new driver? Is it solely sponsorship? Talent? A combination?
CJ: Well, I like guys who are serious. For me it’s a sport and I look at kids like Elliott Skeer, somebody that we came across. He’s 100% serious; he wants this to be his career. So, I think people like that are willing to go the extra mile and when you tell ’em, by looking at the data, that there’s more in the tank, they go and get it. Whereas, some people, you know, perhaps older guys or something may not have that same incentive. Whereas Elliott really goes out there with his heart on his sleeve, racing hard as he can; because this is his best shot at doing what he wants to do. So that’s what I really like; I really like guys like that. When we have a chance to take in kids that are talented, receptive work hard, that’s the same thing I’d look for if I was playing any sport. You know, you want the talented kid that’s committed, whether it’s basketball, baseball or racing.
Andrew: Yeah, from the little bit of racing that I’ve had the opportunity to do here and there, you know, the mental aspect plays a huge role. The mental motivation, in my opinion, at least.
Andrew: Would you say that the mental aspect is somewhat similar to the mental aspect of pitching?
CJ: Well, I think any time you get into the realm of excellence in any sport or venture — I mean, whether it’s being a pilot or a back surgeon, or a pitcher or a race car driver — the thing that separates people is, I mean, realistically we’re all built relatively the same, so it comes down to feel, repetition, confidence, and visualization — a lot of intangible things. You might be able to figure them out, but you can’t see them. You know what I mean?
CJ: You can’t look at someone walking the street and be like, “That guy is fearless.” You know what I’m saying?
CJ: So, one of the things for me is I just like to get to know the guys and I just tell them what they’re looking for, or what we’re looking for and what I believe in in terms of race car drivers or athletes. So, I just, I try to prepare them and tell them what to do in terms of finding a routine and all that stuff to make sure their mind is quiet before they step into the car and all that, which is the same thing that you have to do with baseball. But a lot of these things are the same. If you’re super prepared, and you’ve taken the time to slow yourself down mentally, so that you’re not worrying about stuff, and you’re not thinking about your next thing after this.
If you’re only focused on right now, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes and you’ve done the practice and you’ve done the homework, then that’s your best shot to succeed. And, it’s the same in any sport or anything, whether it’s the stock brokers at the stock market or whatever, it’s all the same. And so, I think, in that regard they look at it as an opportunity to be impressive, to do something special. And that thing they’re going out there for is there dream. And, I’m just trying to help that out.
Andrew: This isn’t extremely relevant to the kind of sports car racing you’re doing at the moment, with the Continental Tire Series, but do you have any thoughts on the ALMS/Grand Am merger at all? I think our readers would be curious to hear another perspective.
CJ: Yeah, it’s very exciting. I mean, from someone like me, as a team owner, it makes logistics a lot easier because you know exactly where everybody’s going to be. So you’re not worried about having to send one truck to New Jersey and the other truck to California. They’re all going to California at the same time, and they’re all going to Florida at the same time, you know?
CJ: So, that’s the deal.
Andrew: I didn’t think of it that way. That makes a lot of sense economically.
CJ: Yeah, I’m excited about it! And, I think, it’s just a matter of time before we figure out what our next step forward is past, past Continental Tires. But, I would really like to leave a team in Continental Tires and then keep going forward, you know? And add more teams as we go.
Andrew: So, the big question — Le Mans. The biggest race in the world. Is that a goal?
CJ: When I’m deserving of such a thing, I will do it, but right now, I mean, I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself because there’s no point..
CJ: I really do respect [racing] as a profession. I want to stay out of their way. I’m not slow, but, if I’m one second off the pace I’m not terribly happy about that, you know? So, I got to find a way to get into range where I’m just like a normal driver. That’s kind of what I look at. And then it basically kind of works itself out. In terms of an endurance race, like Le Mans or whatever, it’s a lot ,a lot of strategy, a lot of it surviving. So, that, that’s one of the cool things about driving at Thunder Hill. I know how to prepare for that aspect, and, it’s no different in the sense that, you got to go out there and stay focused and go out there and drive for three hours in the middle of the night or wherever, so it’s going to be, be really cool.
Andrew: Generally our demographic is a lot of younger males, guys who are really interested in cars and doing racing themselves. Any suggestions or tips for those kinds of guys who would be interested in doing some kind of motorsport? Whether it be autocross or a grassroots event.
CJ: I think the biggest thing is the long term, ya know? I have a friend whose son in racing, and her and I had a conversation a couple years ago and she said “Well you know, our budget is really this.” and I said “You know, you don’t have to spend your whole budget all at once. You can try to save some money for next year, that’s totally okay to do. And, if you save some money for next year, you’ll have a lot more budget next year.” You don’t want to waste all your money trying to get somewhere and then not have anything left.. You got to have perspective and recognize that there are 40 and 50 year old drivers out there. I mean Randy Pobst is one of the best drivers in the country and I don’t even know how old he is, but he’s definitely not 30 years old.
Andrew: I’m sure he’s 30 if you ask him.
CJ: *laughter* So, you got to look at that as an example and, and be aware of all the various opportunities that might come up if you know the right people and you have the talent. But if you spend all your money then you might not ever be able to express your talent.
CJ: So, you have to find a way to be very careful about the money you spend, because once you spend it, it’s gone. It doesn’t come back unless you’re a trust fund kid. And I understand this now that I run a race team. And as a guy that owns the race team I obviously had to finance the genesis of that team. I had to buy the trucks and all that stuff and finance the bills for the cars, so that’s no different than somebody that’s doing it on their own. You know?
Andrew: Yeah. I don’t want to paint you too much into a corner here but I have to ask. Winning your class at Thunder Hill, is that more or less thrilling than winning in baseball?
CJ: I don’t know, I mean everything is different, like, you have different scales. There are a lot of things that are beautiful out there; you might say a Ferrarri F40 is beautiful or some girl on TV is beautiful, but it means different things for different reasons. And for me, Thunder Hill is sort of a stepping stone and I think it’s a good achievement but at the same time it’s not Le Mans. If I won Le Mans that would be a much greater achievement than anything I’ve done yet on a baseball field.
CJ: You know what I mean? Just competing in a World Series and stuff is great, but until I win the World Series it’ll always be something that I’m going to try to do. And you see, even in racing I’m going in parallel with Audi. They’re trying to win Le Mans every year, and they’ve won it a bunch of times. So, just because you win, doesn’t mean you stop doing it and go on to the next thing. You sometimes go from winning one to wanting to win every year. Winning becomes its own level of addiction.
Andrew: Gotcha, yeah I was going to say winning can be addictive that way.
CJ: Racing is addictive enough, and then once you add winning into that it’s a whole other element.
Andrew: Yeah, totally addictive. Did you have anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap up?
CJ: Just about my team The biggest thing for us is being able to tie together my baseball career, my charity and my race team and try to find a way to make the most of all of those things. And I’m really stoked about having a race team and having such good people work on it. That we’re able to use it [and my charity] to bring kids from CHOC hospital out to the track and have them play around with the cars and get into the pits for the for qualifying or try to change wheels on the cars and stuff. So, it’s just things like that really make it rewarding because it’s not just me addicted to winning or me addicted to racing. I get to share it with people and I think racing is a team sport, and when you’re able to share that experience it really makes it a lot more enjoyable that than racing [in a selfish way], which a lot of people do The team aspect of [racing] is what makes it.
Andrew: Thanks for taking the time, CJ. Best of luck this season. I’ll see you guys on the track.
CJ: Okay, cool. Thank you.
Once again, a personal thanks to CJ for agreeing to an interview. You can thank CJ on Twitter.