How former pitcher turned love of racing into new career

Credit: Ron Jenkins

Credit: Ron Jenkins

C.J. Wilson might have walked away from baseball, but it is not really a retirement.

The former Rangers pitcher has kept busy, managing his car dealership in Fresno, Calif., for 12 hours a day and also owning a racing team, C.J. Wilson Racing. But he is not just a stay-at-home owner. Wilson is actually out there on the tracks, racing himself in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. Last weekend, he finished a career-best ninth place at the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama while driving the No. 33 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.

This career change has been the plan since childhood for Wilson, whose father was in a pit crew back in the day.

"It was always about play as long as you can until your arm falls off — and after five arm surgeries I can tell you it pretty much has — and remain virile and vigorous enough to pursue something else," said Wilson, who raced occasionally in the offseason during his career. "It's something I've always wanted to do. So it's not like I just snapped my fingers one day and went, 'I want to drive race cars.' I've done racing here and there but I've never been able to really attack it the way that I wanted to."

Wilson, who will race on May 5 and May 6 in Austin, retired from baseball after missing last season due to a shoulder injury. He spent 12 years in the Major Leagues, split between the Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels.

The two-time All-Star still looks at the Rangers' 2011 team that went to the World Series as the best squad he had the chance to be a part of.

"I talked to a couple guys, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and some of the guys that have moved on or aren't with the team anymore and we all say the same thing," Wilson said. "There will never be another team that we'll be able to play on like that. That was our shot. That was our window of greatness."

One of his teammates from that 2011 team, pitcher Colby Lewis, is just as into cars as Wilson. The two, who first crossed paths in 1999 while pitching in junior college, used to constantly talk racing in the Rangers' clubhouse.

One time, that talk turned into an actual race during spring training in Arizona. Wilson was driving a 911 Porsche and Lewis was in one of his favorite Corvettes in what Wilson described as a "Vin Diesel-Paul Walker style race."

"We were going down these back roads probably going 120 and we went and played video games afterwards and we were like, 'We probably shouldn't do that again or we're going to go to jail,' " Wilson recalled.

But now that passion is a new career for Wilson. He sneaks in practices around his long work weeks but admits the schedule is still easy compared to the grind of a baseball season.

And while the risk of injury is ever-present in racing, it is more palatable for Wilson than it was at the end of his baseball career.

"For some reason I'm more willing to push the limits on the racetrack than deal with the inevitability of getting injured as a pitcher. That was part of my thought process with walking away was I know if I keep pitching I'm going to keep getting surgeries and my quality of life is going to get worse and worse and I won't be able to throw out the first pitch one day because my arm won't work," Wilson said. "When I'm driving a car I know there's a risk of me crashing at 150 miles per hour. I'm more OK with that because I feel like it has nothing to do with my body, it has more to do with skill development to avoid having things like that happening."