C.J. Wilson has a need for speed
Rangers left-hander looks forward to a future in racing
Left-hander C.J. Wilson's fastball tops out at around 94 mph. He could hit 100 mph before moving out of the Rangers bullpen and into the rotation. But he's got a lot more speed than that going for him. Exceeding 175 mph is not that unusual for the 6-foot-1, 210-pound reliever -- when he's driving a race car.
"I was always into cars," Wilson said. "The first thing I read was Road & Track. My dad was on a pit crew for a dirt track team when I was a kid [growing up in Newport, Calif.], so I used to go to the races a lot. ... I always wanted to [race]. But I couldn't make the jump financially. We just didn't have the money to do it."
Wilson went undrafted coming out of high school in 1998, and at Santa Ana JC and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. The Rangers eventually selected him in the fifth round (No. 141 overall) in 2001. He made it to the Majors four years later and moved into the rotation last year, where he led the starters in wins (15), ERA (3.35), innings pitched (204) and complete games (3).
Wilson said racing will become his No. 1 passion when his pitching days are over. He already has taken a big step in that direction, putting together the C.J. Wilson Racing team. He races during the offseason and, if he can find some sponsors, he'll try to do it professionally.
Wilson got hooked four years ago after driving his Porsche around the Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas, just west of Arlington, and taking a few Skip Barber Racing School courses.
He has his eyes set on Grand-Am racing and the 24 Hours of Daytona and has competed in several dozen events at a variety of levels -- twice in the American Le Mans Series' 25 Hours of Thunderhill in California, and last November in a Formula Atlantic race at Mosport in Canada.
A Formula Atlantic car looks sort of like the racers in the Indianapolis 500.
"It's an unbelievable car, with 300 horsepower, huge slick tires and a downforce of like 3½ G's, something like that," Wilson said.
"Open wheel's a whole different animal than NASCAR (stock-car racing) because you're exposed to the elements. If you're going just 75 miles an hour in an open-cockpit car, the wind is pushing your head back and you're getting bugs hitting you in the face and dirt and rocks and stuff hitting your helmet.
"It's really gnarly, but I love open wheel. It's just so much more pure, I guess. You can see the wheels. You can see the suspension doing its thing and you really feel more connected to the road that way."
Yes, Wilson agrees, open-wheel racing is more dangerous than NASCAR, "but it forces you to be a better driver because you have to have more control and more awareness."
He has yet to race a stock car on an oval track, but that is in his plans as well. The closest he's come: driving the pace car at the Texas 500 Sprint Cup race last November, a week after the World Series.
"That was really cool," Wilson said, "but the thing with the pace car is it's kind of a downer because you're going only 45, and there's all that horsepower behind you, And it's loud. They're ready to race. If I could've gone faster it would have been a lot more fun."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.