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Gone are the days when NASCAR drivers were amongst the oldest motorsport drivers in any category, with younger prodigies quickly entering the mix. Just take William Byron’s case. The #24 Hendrick Motorsports driver is upsetting some of the Cup Series’ top veterans with his form, with only a handful of years behind the wheel. Similarly, another meteoric success story is brewing behind the Trackhouse Racing garage doors. Justin Marks’ rising star, Connor Zilisch, beat out Truck Series veterans such as Matt Crafton to pole position at COTA, leading many to believe that he’s the next big thing. But for a 17-year-old, is the pressure getting too much to handle?

Connor Zilisch is cool as a cucumber despite feeling a little pressure

Earlier this year, Trackhouse Racing’s development driver made news all around by winning the LMP2 Class at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. As prestigious as that accolade is, Zilisch further cemented his competitiveness by securing the pole after running his first-ever laps in a truck at COTA. Naturally, the community, including the Door Bumper Clear crew, was keen to know how Zilisch kept up with the big shots.

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Making an appearance on the Dirty Mo Media-produced podcast, Zilisch was asked by Brett Griffin about the pressure he faces whilst interacting with legends like Michael Jordan and Kevin Harvick. After all, the amount of eyes on Zilisch far exceed the wildest dreams of any teenage athlete. Griffin enquired, “Is it intimidating at all when you strap in and you’re now racing against some of those guys? Like the Matt Crafton’s of the world?”

Whilst the veteran believed Zilisch wouldn’t even know who some veterans of the sport were, the 17-year-old shared his humble viewpoint. Despite being aware of the legends he was amongst, Zilisch remained true to his roots; I don’t really get star-struck, but it’s definitely a little bit intimidating. You know, just how young I am. I don’t wanna say I grew up watching these guys but I have seen them before and it‘s definitely pressure and I’m so young.”

Although he secured the pole in only his first-ever Truck Series race, Zilisch believes he isn’t under much pressure from Justin Marks and the team to recreate such results. The only pressure comes from his push to become the best. He stated, “I have a long-term contract with a cup team and I feel like I’m in a solid spot. They don’t put too much pressure on me to perform. I don’t wanna say I’m in a high-pressure environment, but I’m still trying to make a name for myself and prove myself.” 

Compared to Matt Crafton, who is still one of the most competent Truck Series racers at the age of 47, Zilisch’s lack of experience inevitably creates stress. But the 17-year-old believes Trackhouse Racing has all bases covered. He stated, “So when you’re racing against these guys that have been doing it for, you know, 10-15+ years, it ain’t gonna be easy. But I have a really good group of people around me that help make it easier on me, but at the end of the day, we’re all racing to win. So, it’s definitely not going to be easy.” 

READ MORE: Has Time Come for Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing to Start Panicking?

After taking a look at how calm and composed Connor Zilisch seems to be, it isn’t too far-fetched to believe he could soon pose a threat to the frontrunner in the Cup Series. However, that certainly wouldn’t have been possible without Kevin Harvick’s intervention to secure a big break for the 17-year-old driver!

How Kevin Harvick helped Zilisch link up with Chevrolet

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Growing up, Connor Zilisch’s path in motorsport was never aligned with making it to NASCAR. Moving away to Europe in his early teenage years to train with the best, Zilisch had his eyes set on the Pinnacle of Motorsport. But owing to sponsorship woes and other hurdles, that ship never set sail.

Fortunately for Zilisch, he crossed paths with one of NASCAR’s greatest modern-era drivers, Kevin Harvick. After karting with Harvick’s son, Keelan, the young prodigy quickly proved his worth to the FOX analyst, helping him fast-track his way into the Trans-am series. Zilisch shared on DBC, “When Kevin Harvick got me my first race in Trans-am, he helped put it together with Nitro Motorsports and I qualified on the pole by I think eight-tenths and was leading the race until an injector failed. But that kind of got my foot in the door and I got a full-time ride the next year because of that.” 

But that’s not all. This incident ultimately led to his fateful meeting with Chevrolet’s driver development program trainer, Josh Wise. Reflecting on the importance of that day, Zilisch shared; “Kyle Larson was running a big go-kart race….and that’s kind of where I met Josh Wise and everyone at Chevrolet and made that connection.” He concluded,Josh saw something in me and ever since then I’ve worked with him and he’s been a big help in kind of pushing me in the right direction.”

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While it’s safe to say Connor Zilisch isn’t showing any signs of cracking under pressure, do you think his development will continue down this path of mighty success?