Former NASCAR Cup driver by Sam Mayer’s side throughout K&N championship season
Josh Wise completed 368 NASCAR national touring starts before becoming a driver coach
Winning a championship doesn’t happen overnight, and doesn’t happen with just one person.
It takes determined, hard-working, smart individuals pushing each other to the limit.
For 16-year-old Sam Mayer, his wisdom throughout his title campaign came from a former Cup Series driver, now turned “driver performance manager” or as his Twitter bio states, “Coach of Racers.”
Enter: Josh Wise.
The Riverside, California, native made 156 Cup starts, earning a career-best finish of 10th at Talladega in 2015. But Wise is now better known in the industry than anything he did on the track, because he’s helping drivers improve physically and mentally.
Wise currently works with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson, as well as Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman. He regularly helps them with physical fitness goals (Wise regularly competed in endurance races) and working the mind to be sharp inside the car.
At the beginning of this season, he added newly crowned K&N Pro Series East champion Sam Mayer to that list.
“GMS reached out to me last winter to see if I would help out some of the younger drivers they had coming on,” Wise said. “They had Sheldon (Creed) and Sam. That was definitely something I was interested in. Part of what I get to do is I get to work with really good guys in the Cup Series but I really look forward to working with younger drivers when I get the opportunity.”
At the beginning of their relationship, things were difficult to work out due to Mayer residing in Wisconsin and Wise being based out of Charlotte. But still, they made it work.
“Whenever (Sam) came down, he stayed at my house a couple times this year,” Wise said. “We’ve worked on the simulator, I can track his training, preparation and whatnot and it’s been a really fun time working with him.”
Sometimes strange to think about, Mayer hasn’t finished growing physically speaking, only as a 16-year-old. For that reason, Wise focused on the between the ears area with Mayer.
“Training the mind and preparing mentally for these races is probably as important as training the body,” Wise explained. “There’s definitely some physical requirements that are kind of standard I like guys to meet for each series, but essentially, Sam trains a little differently than my Cup guys do. It’s a special opportunity for someone like Sam because he’s in a room when he comes here training with Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, John Hunter Nemechek and all the guys I work with. I think there’s value to having those interactions as well.”
But it’s not all mental. Wise and Mayer can be seen at the track regularly staring at a screen, pouring over data after a practice or qualifying run. Wise typically leads the conversations, as Mayer’s experience at most tracks is slim to none, whereas Wise’s is extensive.
Now approaching the one-year mark since Wise and Mayer got together, the 20-year age gap has allowed Wise to see Mayer’s improvement in different areas from a unique lens.
“I feel like I’ve seen him grow a lot,” he said. “Physically, there’s obviously a lot of improvements he’s made since the first time I worked with him. Those are great to see, but the growth I see that excites me most is his growth as a young man. How he handles himself and how he communicates, how he’s able to mentally process being a race car driver and all the adversities that can present themselves. He’s made some great strides.”
Wise hung up his racing helmet in 2016 to turn his attention to the driver performance managing side. It had been a dream of his to do so ever since he moved south to pursue a career in racing.
Now, he’s taking lessons learned from the mentors he didn’t have back then and helping out the current and future generation of racers.
“I’ve said this for a long time: the reason I do what I do now is because when I came to Charlotte to race stock cars, I came from open wheel racing and didn’t have a clue,” he admitted. “Not a clue about how to operate on my day to day, let alone handle myself at the race track, how to prepare for races, what to look for, what to expect and how to handle the challenges of that.”
“It’s a roller coaster and you’re really on an island sometimes. All these relationships are special, and I really try to be the person I wish I had when I was a young racer aspiring to be my best.”