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Trackhouse Racing’s Generational Talent Admits Being in Peace With Richard Childress’ Prodigy Despite Decade-Long Rivalry

Published 04/12/2024, 5:13 PM EDT

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Connor Zilisch is barely on the threshold of adulthood, and showing prowess beyond his years. When the 17-year-old gets behind the wheel of a car, he breathes fire. Taking home the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring awards to kickstart the year, Zilisch is on a roll. But the youngster’s wisdom extends beyond the race track.

The teenager’s immense experience has already thrown in a few rivals who keep challenging him. Yet Zilisch knows better than to just fly into word battles or brawls with them.

Connor Zilisch draws the blinds on grudges

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Last year in August, Trackhouse Racing prodigy Zilisch looked poised to grab a win in his ARCA Menards Series debut. Driving for Pinnacle Racing Group, he passed polesitter Corey Lajoie early, leading a race-high 34 laps. But Richard Childress Racing driver Jesse Love threw a wrench in his plans as nudged Zilisch in the final corner and narrowly won.

This is just one item in a long list of encounters between Zilisch and Love. Recently they got into a Twitter fight, taking sharp jabs at each other’s weaknesses. Fans were enthralled, calling the rivalry better than that between Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon.

 

But Connor Zilisch chooses to fly the peace flag. Talking to the Athletic recently, he said how he uses his childhood friend’s example to cool things down with Jesse Love. “I’ve grown up around Brent Crews and we’ve been racing against each other since we were seven or eight years old. I’ve always told him and our parents, “Look, things may happen on the racetrack. But that’s not a good representation of who we are and the people we are. What happens on the track is way different than what happens off the track.”

Brent Crews is another teenage driver competing full-time in the SCCA Trans-Am TA2 ProAm Series. He also happened to be at Zilisch’s ARCA debut last year, battling with both his best friend and his rival for the lead.

Connor Zilisch then backed up his beliefs with an enlightening thought. “That’s something I’ve learned to live by in the racing world. Yeah, you have to be the bigger person to be able to accept those things sometimes. But it’s what’s needed when we’re going to be around each other for the rest of our lives in racing. You don’t want to hate someone when you’re racing against them every week.”

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As it turns out, even Jesse Love holds a peaceful approach toward Connor Zilisch.

Love tipped his hat to Zilisch’s talents

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Even though Connor Zilisch wants peace now, last year’s ARCA debut had him genuinely frustrated. After Love spun him out of contention and stole the win from under his nose, Zilisch was upset. He had planned out a cautious strategy because it was raining and believed he could have been more aggressive on the damp track.

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Jesse Love acknowledged Zilisch’s superior racing skills. “Hats off to Connor Zilisch. I hope he doesn’t think [the bump] was dirty. It was borderline, but I had to do something. He left the door open for me to do something when he got into the rumble strips.” He further said: “Brent Crews and Connor Zilisch are two of the best up-and-coming race car drivers in the country right now and they put that on full display today.”

Both drivers may soon become fast friends on the race tracks.

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Written by:

Sumedha Mukherjee

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Sumedha Mukherjee is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports who is known for her in-depth track analysis as well as her lifestyle coverage of Cup drivers like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Inspired by the Kiwi's journey so far, Sumedha has also written pieces on Shane Van Gisbergen, predicting how the Supercars Champion would do in the new and unfamiliar American setting. Pairing her research skills with her vast experience as a writer, Sumedha creates stories her readers can easily get lost in.
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Edited by:

Shreya Singh