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Short Track Weekly: Connor Zilisch Discusses 2024 Success, Racing In Europe And Wanting A Diverse Skillset

It’s been a good year to be Connor Zilisch.

Zilisch started the 2024 racing season with an LMP2 class win in IMSA’s Rolex 24 at Daytona for Era Motorsport. His background of success also includes the Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship, a CARS Tour win in 2023 at Ace Speedway, a second-place finish in the ARCA Menards Series at Watkins Glen, and six wins across two divisions in Trans-Am in 2023. The Trackhouse Racing developmental driver also won the pole at Circuit of the Americas in the Craftsman Truck Series and taken another LMP2 class win in the 12 Hours of Sebring.

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Frontstretch caught up with Connor Zilisch ahead of his CARS Tour race at Hickory Motor Speedway in early April. The 17-year-old sensation would go on to win the event later that night, adding to his resume of early 2024 success..

The conversation reflected on his success to that point, took a visit to his past karting in Europe with aspirations to race in Formula 1 and when he knew that path wouldn’t work. As an outsider to stock car racing, Zilisch also touched on what can be done for those on the outside to be drawn into the sport.

https://youtu.be/h4QP2aUCdDA

Trenton Worsham, Frontstretch: We are at Hickory Motor Speedway before the TuffShed 250 CARS Tour event. Before tonight, I want to talk to you about your 2024 so far. You’ve been a busy guy for a 17-year-old, so how would you sum up the first three and a half months of your year?

Zilisch: Yeah it’s been beyond my imagination for sure, winning some of the biggest sports car races, qualifying on pole in my truck race. There are a lot of good things that have happened but there’s still a long way to go this year and a lot of races left in front of me so I just got to keep my head down, keep focusing, and not really let all the headlines and the good stuff that people have been saying get to me. I still have to stay true to myself and continue to do what needs to be done to continue to stay successful.

Worsham: Speaking of headlines, something I wanted to touch on was you were on DBC [Door Bumper Clear], and y’all were kind of making jokes about social media, and your comments were taken out of context a bit there. So just going from joking around about social media and then being involved in sort of like a funny little controversy, how was that?

Zilisch: I mean, it’s going to happen, right? I probably said something I shouldn’t have said, but when you give the press the stuff they can use to, kind of get headlines and get a lot of clicks, they’re going to do that. So, you know, sometimes just gotta get used to it. It’s nothing anybody did wrong, but, you know, it was a little frustrating, but that’ll happen.

Worsham: Something I wanted to ask you about a little bit is more of your background. We know sort of, I guess the cliff notes version and stuff. But when did you know being overseas as you were originally going on the F1 path, that it wasn’t going to happen? You know, when did that click for you to maybe I should not be doing this over here?

Zilisch: Yeah, it was a young age, I kind of went over there knowing I wasn’t going to make it, you need so much money. And, you know, there’s only 20 seats. And all those guys, as crazy as it may sound, either have a last name or have a lot of money. So, I knew from a young age, it wasn’t going to be really possible. It’s unfortunate because that stuff’s really cool. It is how it is and I’m having a lot of fun doing what I am doing. So I’ve had a lot of fun learning, oval racing, and trying to figure it out. It’s still, you know, pretty new to me. I’m still getting used to it, but it is sure a lot of fun.

Worsham: Something that I’m curious about, as you know when drivers come up, they have like that veteran or older person to lean on, when you were doing the karting stuff, was Logan Sargeant one of those people? Was he somebody you leaned on being another American doing that at that level?

Zilisch: Yeah, he was a few years ahead of me, we knew each other, but I didn’t know him too well. There was a lot of guys that I kind of looked up to in karting, but a lot of those guys nobody probably knows of. But, I mean, there’s so much talent in karting. I feel like it is one of the best ways to kind of grow up racing. I feel like that was really good for me and helped shape me into the driver am today.

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Worsham: Having that background and coming over to do the stock car and sports car stuff, I guess as an outsider in a way with your upbringing and stuff, you kind of had some points there with your comments comparing NASCAR and F1. So like, what would you do? As a young guy what can be done to get more people into stock car racing?

Zilisch: I think it’s just the opportunities. When you’re growing up racing go karts, you want to race IndyCar, F1, or whatever it may be. But I feel like, closed wheel racing provides the best opportunities for kids that may not have the most funding behind them, family money. So, obviously, it takes something to get started and racing. But you know, I feel like with the way NASCAR is you can make it on talent still. There still are opportunities for those kids that are really, really talented. So you’ve just got to make the most of what you have. I say yes to almost every opportunity I get and you know, it’s tough at times, right? You might not be driving the best stuff or you know, whatever it may be, but it pays off in the end when it makes you a better racecar driver.

Worsham: One of the last things I have for you is to say the sky’s the limit for you. You’re 17, you’re young, is racing in other divisions, something you want to do? We have Kyle Larson racing in the Indy 500 this year, we’ve had other NASCAR guys do that. We have had some come to NASCAR from IndyCar. Is that something you want to maybe look into? So you do your thing in NASCAR and maybe get the itch to go do something like IndyCar? Is open wheel something you’ll be open to doing more of later in your career?

Zilisch: I’ve always kind of said that guys like Kyle Larson that I look up to, and, you know, Tony Stewart, those guys that could get in anything. I don’t want to be known as just a Cup Series driver or whatever it may be. I want to be able to get in any kind of vehicle, in any discipline, and be fast and succeed. So, yes, to answer your question, 100% if I got the chance to run anything in IndyCar or anything like that, I’d take it and as long as I’m not running a full season. But I do want to branch out and run multiple different series. That’s kind of been my thing, since I’ve started racing cars is just say yes to every opportunity and drive whatever you can.

Worsham: You’re doing a little bit of everything this year so what is something you want to work the most on for 2024 and be better at when the year is over?

Zilisch: Probably the big tracks in the Xfinity car. I’ve got Kansas, Homestead, and Phoenix, which isn’t a big track, but those Kansas and Homestead races are going to be big learning opportunities for me. I’m really excited to get there and feel it out and just try to understand it. I might not have the best chance to win, but, you know, I feel like I have a really good opportunity to learn and that’s the biggest thing for me at my age.

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