The Love of Cars: C.J. Wilson talks about his transition from baseball star to race car driver

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Matthew Lewis | Hagerty Media Site

At the risk of torquing off every dude who ever wanted to play Major League Baseball and came up short, former all-star pitcher C.J. Wilson reached the pinnacle of the sport without it being his favorite. Auto racing was always his #1.

As Wilson explains in the latest edition of The Love of Cars, Presented by Hagerty, he chose baseball because he could excel at it without being particularly large or strong or skilled in just one area. After a 10-year major league career, Wilson hung up his spikes and charged after his first love instead.

Before bringing Wilson onto this week’s show, co-hosts Justin Bell and Tommy Kendall rolled out a short biography about Wilson that Porsche put together in 2017.

The Love of Cars - CJ Wilson
C.J. Wilson talks with co-hosts Tommy Kendall (left) and Justin Bell about driving the Porsche 919. The Love of Cars

“Cars and racing have always been on my mind since I was a little kid,” Wilson says. “I remember thinking, what’s it like to hear the engine and to feel it go around corners, to slide your hand down the hip of the car and feel the curve? Thinking about what it’s like to be a race car driver … It’s all I could ever think about …

“I wasn’t the biggest guy, I didn’t have the most horsepower, I couldn’t throw the hardest—but I can see things. I can find ways to win. I can strategize. I can outwit them. And I always felt like if I was in better shape, at the end of the season I was going to be a better player than the guys on the field around me.”

As Wilson, 39, drives for Porsche and strives to reach his goal of becoming an elite endurance racer, he is also battling doubters. Nothing new there.

“For a lot of people, just getting to a certain level is important,” he says. “They just want to run a lap or throw a pitch. But I never understood that; it never made any sense to me. You have to have a dream in order to make any progress, otherwise you’re just on a treadmill your whole life.

“The ultimate goal of any endurance racer is to go to France and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Why would my goal be any different?”

Wilson tells Bell and Kendall that test driving a Porsche 919 in Spain is “incredible; it blew my mind” for a lot of reasons. For instance, “G-Forces and putting your body through that and then challenging yourself to do it in a way that you know if you do anything wrong in the car there’s probably a good chance you don’t make it on your return trip. That’s the biggest fear—crashing Porsche’s $20 million race car.”

And how is Wilson’s progress as a racer? “When you have such an ambitious goal, you have to work your way up to it piece by piece … [I’m] getting an education … Now it’s basically just me getting up to speed. The only focus now is testing and getting behind the wheel and getting more familiar, because I feel from a conceptual standpoint, I’m ready to go. [The question is:] can I execute?”

Bell and Kendall later chat with well-traveled car aficionado, concours judge, and Audrain CEO Donald Osborne, who believes “everyone has a car story, even if they’ve never owned a car.” It’s those stories that light Osborne’s fire, and he shares a few.

There’s much more to savor in Episode 3 of The Love of Cars, so check it out. If you want to watch live, the show airs every Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. Next week, John Oates of Hall & Oates music fame will be the featured guest.

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