INDIANAPOLIS — Count team owner Sam McGhee among those who were surprised with Zeb Wise’s departure from the No. 11 team following the conclusion of the All Star Circuit of Champions season.
McGhee signed Wise in December hoping to construct a long-term program around the Angola, Ind., teenager. However, with Wise’s move to seek a different opportunity, McGhee was forced to head in a different direction than he’d planned for the upcoming year.
“Honestly, the last I heard was that (Zeb coming back) was going to be the plan,” McGhee told Sprint Car & Midget by phone Monday evening. “Really, it wasn’t until about maintenance on Saturday that I started hearing rumors and stuff. And then after the feature Saturday, Zeb and Chad … we all sat down and he said, ‘Hey, I’m just giving you a heads up now, so you can get your plans together for the rest of season, but I’m going to do something different next year.’
“That was our whole plan this year, was to build it for the next year and the year after that,” McGhee added. “Obviously that plan has changed now, but we’ll figure out what’s next.”
McGhee’s team has had three drivers behind the wheel in three seasons of winged sprint car competition. Ryan Smith wheeled the car for the majority of the 2018 season, before Dale Blaney took the reins in 2019 and finished second in All Star points behind Aaron Reutzel.
Wise raced to three top-five and 19 top-10 finishes in the McGhee No. 11 this year in All Star competition, with Ian Madsen set to take the controls for the last five World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series events of the year.
After that, it’s onto the driver market for McGhee and company, though McGhee noted he’s already had interest from a handful of drivers in regard to his sprint car for the upcoming season.
“As soon as Zeb put that tweet out that he was pulling out, I had five or six drivers text me and go, ‘Hey man, put my name in there (as a possibility),” McGhee noted. “It’s not like we’re having to go out and call everyone we can think of to say, ‘Hey, can you run the car?’ There are more drivers than there are car owners out there right now, which is good for the situation we find ourselves in now.
“It’s all about finding who is the right fit for us in order to go forward and stay competitive.”
And for anyone worried that Wise’s decision to move on from Sam McGhee Motorsports might jeopardize the team’s future, McGhee dismissed those thoughts.
He said fans will see his team back on the All Star tour full time when Florida Speedweeks rolls back around in February.
“It’s not about landing on our feet; we’re on our feet,” he said. “We’re not starting from scratch and you’ll definitely see us back full time with the All Stars next year.
“This period right now is just a matter of figuring out who that next driver is going to be.”