VENTURA, Calif. – Almost lost amid the mad scramble going on up front during Thursday’s 77th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway was a quiet fifth-place run by Clauson-Marshall Racing rookie Zeb Wise.
However, the run was no less significant than the power plays by the top-two finishers, as Wise’s Thanksgiving efforts garnered him the prestigious Don Basile Rookie of the Race Award.
The Don Basile Rookie of the Race Award is presented annually to the top-finishing rookie at the Turkey Night Grand Prix and is named in honor of the late Basile, who promoted the Turkey Night Grand Prix for nearly two decades (1955-1972) alongside the Agajanian family at Ascot Park.
The award was established following Basile’s passing on Oct. 21, 1998, just a month prior to the 58th running of Turkey Night.
Wise outdueled a star-studded group of fellow full-timers to become the 2017 recipient, including teammate Justin Grant (seventh), Tanner Carrick (11th), Logan Seavey (15th), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year Chase Briscoe (21st) and a second teammate in Tyler Courtney (22nd).
Perhaps what amazed the soft-spoken 15-year-old most about his run was the fact that he charged forward from the eighth row on the grid to crack the top-five by the end of the 98-lap feature.
Wise methodically moved forward position by position in the early going, entering the top-10 on lap 14 and remaining there for the remainder of the race distance.
“Starting 15th, I didn’t think we were going to get anywhere close to where we ended up,” admitted Wise. “Racing with these guys … they’re the best in the country and it’s an honor to be in this field. I can’t thank everyone enough; this is an amazing moment. What an emotional night.”
Wise’s final on-track pass came with 14 laps to go, when he moved around Grant to take fifth for good.
In fact, it was Grant and his other teammates that he cited with giving him the help he needed to succeed in just the second USAC National Midget start of his young career.
“Tim (Clauson, team co-owner) has been an unbelievable help, along with my other teammates. It’s just an amazing team that I love working with,” said Wise. “Sunshine (Tyler Courtney), Justin (Grant), Shane (Golobic) … they’re just a great group to work with and I’m proud to be a part of it with them.”
Wise joins an elite list of drivers who have won the Basile Trophy, including inaugural recipient Kasey Kahne, who earned the honor with a similar fifth-place finish in the 1998 edition of the Thanksgiving classic.
The late Dave Steele (1999), Bobby East (2001), Brad Loyet (2004), Kevin Swindell (2005), Kody Swanson (2006), Dalton Armstrong (2010), Kyle Larson (2011), Tanner Thorson (2013) and Carson Macedo (2016) are also former Don Basile Rookies of the Race.
“It’s a special award and an honor to join a list like that,” admitted Wise. “I still can’t believe it.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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