The second annual Driven2SaveLives BC39 national midget race on The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was another winner for USAC and the track. While “only” 90 entrants were on the grounds near the third turn of IMS’ 2.5-mile historic oval, the breadth of the challengers couldn’t be denied.
It was one of the youngest racers in the field, a youngster who’d won the Stoops Pursuit at this track in 2018 and who’d been victorious in a quarter-midget at the Battle at the Brickyard, who whipped the other 25 drivers contesting this 39-lap feature Thursday night.
Zeb Wise, 16, driving Clauson/Marshall Racing’s No. 39 midget to victory lane cemented the faith initially shown this youngster earlier in the decade by Tim and his son, the late Bryan Clauson, for whom this race is named.
“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. It’s very special, not only to me, but probably even more special to the team,” that Wise earned this particular checkered flag.
Wise led the BC39 race twice, following Thomas Messeraull during the first 18 laps before assuming the lead, then leading the final seven laps after passing Brady Bacon. Coming from fifth in the 26-car field, Wise quickly found his way to second place after clipping Kevin Thomas Jr. as he slithered behind Messeraull, who later flipped, finishing 19th.
At mid-race Wise was battling with NASCAR star Kyle Larson and keeping the Californian behind him on restarts. The duo made contact on the 28th lap, sending Wise up against the wall but the Angola, Ind. native landed on all four tires. Larson would slow with a flat left-rear, causing another caution and putting Wednesday’s Stoops Pursuit victor out of contention for the win. Larson did finish ninth.
Wise thought his chance for victory was gone after that contact. “I knew something was wrong. Heck, I couldn’t even hold it straight down the straightaways.” With a red flag on the 31st lap for a flip, his push-truck driver told Wise he might have a bent steering arm. “At that point I knew it wasn’t something serious and I didn’t need to pull off the track because it was going to be a hazard or anything.”
Wise has been racing the entire USAC National Midget Championship tour for Clauson/Marshall this year and has won three of the last five USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget contests. None was bigger than his victory at Indy, where he earned the largest purse ever offered in USAC National Midget competition, taking home $15,000 to share with his team owners and crew.
“We’ve been on such a hot streak lately,” said Wise. “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.”
With this victory, Zeb Wise holds fourth-place points in the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship chase, behind only teammates Tyler Courtney, Chris Windom and Kunz/Curb-Agajanian’s Logan Seavey. Their next race is scheduled for September 28th at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.