Up close with Josh Wise

A few days back we spent a day with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Josh Wise and today we share a chat we had with this fast and passionate age group triathlete who will race his car at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend. It is too late to get on board as a sponsor for this weekend, but theoretically there are still plenty of opportunities to be involved with this cool Phil Parsons Racing team. You might even bump into former Pro Rich Allen who helps Josh Wise with some sponsorship stuff. But here now to the chat with this super nice guy.

Slowtwitch: It is good to see you Josh.

Josh Wise: Thanks for hanging out with me.

ST: Most folks know you as a NASCAR driver, but we know that you also compete in triathlon. But for those not so familiar with you, can you speak about your car racing background?

Josh: Oh yeah, car racing. Man, it is like when you are a little kid and you are dreaming about being an astronaut, doctor, veterinarian or whatever, and for as long as I can remember I always wanted to drive race cars. So when I was about 7-years old my parents got me basically a go-cart. It is called a quarter midget and I started racing and it was kind of game over from the first time I drove it. It is all I ever wanted to do and I grew up driving different types of cars from my parents. As I got older I moved up to larger and faster cars obviously and spent most of my time racing on dirt ovals and what is called light sprint cars. Long story short, when I was about 19-years old I had a pretty successful year in what would be like professional dirt racing, USAC National Series sprint cars and ended up winning some really big USAC races and got hired by a current Sprint Cup series driver who owned a Sprint Car team at that time, and that was Tony Stewart. I ended up moving from California to Indianapolis to drive for him and that was probably the beginning of my professional career. I was able to have some good success with him and win some championships and dozens of races and that then led to opportunities in Stock Car and NASCAR. I came out to Charlotte at the end of 2006 and started racing in the truck series and some Nationwide series races, and basically just worked my way up through the NASCAR ranks and now I guess here I am in the Sprint Cup series. It has been a crazy journey and of course there is a lot more to that, but this is pretty much the gist of it.

ST: You are on a new team for this year and made the switch from a slightly larger multi car squad to a one-driver team.

Josh: When I started in the Sprint Cup series my first opportunity was with a team called Front Row Motorsports. It was a 3-car team and I had two teammates and it was a pretty solid team on a solid foundation. They build their own cars, have a pretty large shop and everything and it was a great opportunity for me when I was introduced to the Sprint Cup series. Then actually as you go through your first and second year you want to see progression in your career and performances and things like that. But being the newer driver to the team I was just always a bit third string, if you know what I mean. There are these situations where a car has to have best effort and another car the next best one, and I unfortunately fell third on that totem pole.

An opportunity came up over the winter to move to a little bit smaller team - Phil Parsons Racing. But to have a team that was going to give me 100% of their effort was very appealing to me. The crew chief Gene Nead and owner Phil Parsons were people I believed in and their vision was something I wanted to be a part of. So I made the jump over there and I believe it has paid off. We have had some really solid runs, several top 25 finishes and we finished 20th at Talladega a few weeks ago, and that was our best result this year. We are attracting some sponsorship and that is all exciting for us right now. We are building the program up and just hope to keep making it better and bringing faster race cars to the track. Just shooting for the moon with it.

ST: The schedule you have is very busy and that allows you very little time at home.

Josh: Yeah, that is right. With my travel schedule we leave Thursday afternoon each week and fly to wherever in the country it is where we are racing. We start practices early Friday morning and then qualify on Friday. I race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series as well, which races on Saturday afternoons. So I race that race and then the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday and get home Sunday night at some point.

ST: How many races are you thus doing in a season?

Josh: There are 37 or 38 race weekends and I race both series, so you can pretty much double that. Well, if you were to count them out it would likely be around 65 races.

ST: So how does that leave you with space for triathlon?

Josh: It doesn't really, and that is a challenge that I fight. Triathlon is something I am fairly new to and I am coming up on 2 years now I think. It is a part of me and my life and it is just a question of fitting it in where I can. Luckily I have a very amazing wife who allows me to go out and train and do something that I enjoy outside of the race car. And on the weekends when I am traveling there are just a lot of early mornings, and even workouts in the evening after I get out of the race car. On a Saturday I might hop on my bike for an hour or two or try to find a pool to swim, but basically there are just a lot of logistics to work around. It definitely creates some challenges, but it is something that I love to do, so I make time for it.

ST: Do you have any restrictions from team management about stuff like this, not so much because of the distraction, but possibly getting injured?

Josh: I actually have no such restrictions and Phil Parsons is an amazing owner that I really get along with.

ST: When you are at a race venue, do you work out with other drivers and crew?

Josh: There is a pretty awesome core group of people that includes more crew guys than drivers, but we get group rides together on Saturdays many times. There are a lot of places we travel to such as Pocono, Pennsylvania with some pretty mountains around, and the same is true for New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Probably the race driver guys I train the most with are Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne and Blake Koch, and I train every once in a while with Jimmie Johnson. He likes do ride and do triathlons. We probably share an equal passion for the sport of triathlon and it is cool to have these kinds of relationships with guys outside of the cars.

ST: Have you raced Jimmie Johnson?

Josh: We haven't raced a triathlon together but we did do a 5k about 3 weeks or a month ago and I was surprised I beat him by like 20 seconds. If you would have asked me - I would have said there is no doubt that he is a faster runner than me.

ST: What were your times?

Josh: I ran an 18:40 and I think his time was 19:01, which I still think is super fast. It is one of those things that probably comes down to who is having a better day, because we are so close.

ST: Would you consider running your best event in a triathlon?

Josh: Oh no, running is by far my weakest discipline I feel. Running is something I have struggled with and I've never really run more than 2 miles until 2 years ago, in my life. So it's been a big transition for me to do that and I've probably overdone it. I know I've overdone it at times, because I've had several injuries, some Achilles issues, some issues with my knees and stuff like that. I feel like I've gotten a little bit smarter with how to not create those problems now. So I'm hoping that I'll be on a better track and a healthier training regimen where I can build consistent volume and not deal with injury. But my run is something that I've never been able to really do properly. Every time I start to go through a run build I seem to hurt something. But I enjoy swimming and biking much more than running, for sure.

ST: When you go to these NASCAR Sprint Cup races, which bike do you take?

Josh: It just depends. If it's hilly, I'll bring my road bike and if it's going to be flat, I might bring my TT bike. Or if I'm riding by myself I'll bring my TT bike, it really depends on the situation. I'll usually look at the schedule the week of the race, and I'll see what the time constraints are and what I feel like, what I'm trying to accomplish. Obviously if a race is coming up (I'm doing Racine in July) - so obviously the closer I get the more time I spend on my TT bike. Something I love right now that I almost could spend too much time on that doesn't apply exactly to what I'm doing is my mountain bike. I got a mountain bike in December and just love riding that thing. So I have to limit myself and my time on that thing for what I'm trying to train for.

ST: So when you travel, how do you take your bike? I assume it goes with the truck.

Josh: Yeah, I usually put my bike in the semi hauler, the same hauler that brings my race cars to the track. I'll just drop my bike in that and get us to the track and we usually ride from the track.

ST: Is it mounted carefully?

Josh: They kind of tether it for me. The truck driver is really awesome, and he kind of knows. We figured out a way to mount it up in there. He just tethers it up. There is a lounge that is like living space in front of the hauler. So we just kind of tether it up in there against the couch.

ST: You mention the Racine race, is that just a weekend when there are no other races for you? Is that how you picked it?

Josh: Exactly. I wish I could race so much more. Now I get to race really a couple of times a year. Last year I did Racine and Cozumel and that was it, because those were the only off weekends I had. I had Easter weekend off too, but we had some family things to do. Not really much different this year. I did a Sprint Tri on Easter Saturday and then I ran a 5k and I hope to find a few other Sprint and Olympic distance events to do throughout the year. I plan on doing Racine in July and then just kind of see how healthy I am or how I feel after that and then make a plan over the winter for the next year.

ST: But realistically as long as you are a race car driver you won't be able to race many more triathlons unless you to opt to do some events in the Southern hemisphere.

Josh: Year right, exactly. Jimmie Johnson through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation are putting on 2 Sprint triathlons, the 5k we talked about earlier, and I believe a duathlon. And some of those fall on weekdays, and that is really cool. He structured them a little bit around our race schedule because he wants to race in them obviously. So that will be an opportunity to do a few more events. But yeah, it is always going to be hard as long as I am racing 38 or so weekends a year. But I have to check into those that might land in December or January and the couple of off weekends we have each season.

ST: You are also a family man with two kids, and they likely also want time from you.

Josh: That is the most important thing for me. My family by far is my first priority and my career probably comes after that. Triathlon, and I have to be really careful because I love training and preparing for races so much. For me, it's just been a matter of communicating with my wife and understanding what our schedules are and knowing what the kids have going on.

ST: Talk a little bit about your actual sponsors. Your sponsors change depending on which race you do, is that correct?

Josh: Yeah, right now. Our sponsors, and we don't have a whole lot set in stone with that, and that's something that we're trying to really build as we're moving forward with our team. The latest thing that's unfolded for us is our relationship with Reddit.com and dogecoin, which is electronic currency. We've had a few races that have actually been crowd-funded, where fans have just raised money, like $60,000 and sponsored us for several races. We've been able to do some really cool, creative things with the flexibility that we have as a small team. That's actually generated a lot of fan involvement and support, which has been a big deal for us. I was able to win the Sprint All-Star race fan vote, which was a huge deal. We beat Danica Patrick, who is a huge figure in our sport. So to beat her in a fan vote was something that was a big deal for our team. We've actually had sponsors reach out to our team in the last few weeks since then and inquire about what they need to do or what our options are for available races to sponsor. I feel like we've got some good momentum right now with that. I'm excited about it.

ST: The whole crowd source scene you've described, is that fairly unique for your team? Or have other teams done that as well?

Josh: I think it's unique across the board, really, especially when you look at the amount of money that has to be raised to fund a race. A smaller team like ours, we really need $50-70,000 a race to fund our program that we need the way we need it to go out and compete in that race. Then when you get to larger teams, it just becomes a bit unrealistic. They're looking at between $200-500,000 per race. For fans to raise that amount of money definitely isn't impossible, but it just becomes more challenging as you get to larger teams. So that's where being a little smaller team and having the flexibility to work with fans and incorporate them into the program where we were having the folks on Reddit design the paint scheme and the crew uniforms and the hero cards, just making them a part of every step of the project. It was really cool.

ST: You also have some sponsor support in the bike world. You just got a new Specialized?

Josh: Yes, I did. I just got a Shiv, and it is awesome. I'm excited about that. It's cool for me because Specialized is a company I've looked at as cyclist, and been like, aw man, I could be a Specialized rider; that would be awesome. So now to be a part of that team is something that's pretty cool. I guess it hasn't really registered, but I'm definitely excited about that.

ST: Is there anything else we need to talk about?

Josh: No, I think you covered a lot. It was good.

ST: Well, thanks for your time.