ABBOTTSTOWN, Pa. – Zeb Wise understands his second year in the cutthroat ranks of winged sprint car racing is doling out some hard but necessary lessons.
“Wayne [Priddy] and I talk about it a lot: we have tons of speed,” Wise said last month at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “It seems like most places we go we are in the hunt, which is our goal. Finishing off nights is what we struggle with.”
The very thing he’s cognizant of – learning to finish races without letdown – resurfaced Saturday night in Lincoln Speedway’s Crown Jewel event, the Dirt Classic.
Wise led the entirety of the 40-lap, $20,000-to-win feature until his high-groove ways caught up with him.
He smacked the wall in turns one and two with five laps to go and lost the lead and the win, giving the appearance his inexperienced 18-year-old self caught up with him, too.
This time, though, mismanagement of fuel prevented Wise from pulling off his fourth win of the year and a would-be second win of the month.
Wise and his Priddy-Wise Racing No. 10 team thought they put enough gas in the tank for one of the longest races of the All Star Circuit of Champions season.
He commanded a second lead with five laps to go and looked comfortable around the tricky three-eighths-mile clay oval that has a reputation for frustrating young racers. Then Wise realized another prominent finish hung in the balance.
“I was fine until about halfway down the straightaway and it started spitting and sputtering,” Wise said.
Wise stuffed his race machine into the wall right after his gas tank started running dry. He regathered himself, but at that point it was too late. Justin Peck had the positioning and momentum needed to steal the win late.
“I was lucky it didn’t die before I took the checkered, but it’s unfortunate the way it ended,” Wise said.
Managing dirty air, higher downforce and higher speeds in winged cars as opposed to non-winged cars has challenged him, especially on half-mile tracks.
He has felt sufficient on smaller tracks like Lincoln, Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park and Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
“The smaller tracks, it’s what I’m good at,” Wise said. “It’s places like Williams Grove and Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway I need to work on.”
In 2018, Wise showed his skill when he out-dueled Kyle Larson for his first USAC NOS Energy Drink National National Midget Series win at Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway in Newmanstown, Pa.
In 2019, he became the first winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track, outsmarting Tyler Courtney and Chris Windom for another impressive feat in the midget ranks.
Last year he made the jump to winged sprint cars with Sam McGhee Motorsports. It took him until Sept. 26 to crack victory lane for his lone win of the year.
This year he’s raised the bar with three wins, the $26,000 Rayne Rudeen Foundation race at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway a gold star on those list of accomplishments.
In the past month, he’s finished in the top five a career-best six times.
Now it’s off to another half-mile in Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, on Friday for the 4-Crown Nationals, a place that could dish out more learning lessons.
In his seven appearances at the track, his best finish is 17th and he’s failed to qualify four times.
“I need to do a better job late in the night and figure those things out, race the track more than the cars around me,” Wise said. “The season’s been really good. We just need to finish the nights off and I think we’ll be just fine.”