Rising Star Racing’s Art Wilmes’ passion fuels continued U.S. support

Photo courtesy Rising Star Racing
1 Comment

If you follow the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy, chances are you’ll hear the names Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico a lot in 2016.

It’s not necessarily a guarantee that you’d be hearing any or all of those names if it wasn’t for the support and presence of Art Wilmes, founder and principal of Rising Star Racing.

Wilmes and Rising Star Racing enter their third year in North American open-wheel racing with a bigger presence than normal, with Pigot having graduated into IndyCar from Indy Lights, Alberico having moved up to Indy Lights from Pro Mazda, and with other Americans – notably Jake Eidson and Aaron Telitz – in the pipeline to join the program this year. Interestingly, all of the aforementioned drivers are also Team USA Scholarship recipients, thanks to Jeremy Shaw’s efforts and talent scouting.

Wilmes, whose initial and consistent business success in the healthcare world provided him the financial resources to be able to support drivers, admits he’s not doing it for the bottom line, but is doing so for love of the sport.

“My wife asked me the same question, why do you do this,” Wilmes told NBC Sports in a phone interview.

“First of all, I like racing. I have a passion about open-wheel racing and open-wheel racing in America. I’ve been a longtime fan.

“I got to a point where I could use some of the assets, some financial but more on the business side to do something to try to create a path for these people that lack the resources to get to the next level. For me, it’s when I see someone who is crazy talented, but held back by the financial barriers. I think that’s what drives me.”

Pigot and Alberico, as the first two drivers in what Wilmes hopes will be a longtime funnel or pipeline of North American talent into IndyCar, likely would not have been able to make their progressive steps up for 2016 without Rising Star Racing’s support.

The support isn’t just financial, but also features Newgarden as a mentor and driving coach, as well as a PR representative to assist and help them grow with media training (see above, “Rising Star Racing Egg Russian Roulette”). Having grown up with them the last few years, I can say it’s no surprise that these three are among the most media savvy in the business.

“The key deliverables for us are that we’ve found a way to get Neil moving up the ladder, and have Spencer getting up the ladder,” Wilmes said. “We’re still working for as much of the season as we can. But the fact is, we have sustained with those two drivers. Josef doesn’t need our help. The real focus is for guys like Neil and Spencer, to get them into IndyCar.

“I think we’re behind in developing our sponsorship program. But we made some changes, starting last year, I think we have pretty good momentum going. We hope to expand on the program.”

Wilmes’ program is essentially a way for businesses to collaborate and help promote young drivers. It’s companies like D.A. Lubricants (and brand PennGrade Motor Oil) and Doug Mockett & Co. to name a few that help support the effort, thanks in large part to Wilmes’ hard work and dedication.

“It’s part fun, and as much work as it is, it’s very satisfying to me. It’s an expensive hobby, like everything else,” he said.

“If I can limit the level of expense we’ll all be happier. We’re getting to that point. I’ve had to personally invest more than I thought, but that’s a failure on my part to get to where I needed to be. We have to work harder. We have some good sponsor relations to help us get successful.”

Understandably, all of Pigot, Alberico and Newgarden are appreciative of what the Rising Star Racing program has meant in their respective careers.

“Obviously Art has been a great supporter of mine, and Rising Star Racing has helped us a lot in many ways,” said Pigot, who’ll drive the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda this year for at least three races.

“The way it all started for me, I just got an email. At first, I was kind of confused of what it was and trying to do. But I started to talking to him, and he was serious about helping young drivers. The program is growing and growing. It has a bright future ahead.”

Alberico said Wilmes’ presence and support has been far more than just financial.

“It all started with one handshake with Art, before he was even involved in racing,” Alberico said. “Now it’s (my) second year officially of Rising Star Racing, and he’s made so much progress with it as an entity. There’s the relationships he’s built within IndyCar and his personal work as well. He’s good at connecting people.

“He’s good at making B2B deals happen, and good at finding win-wins for both parties. It can benefit me, them, Rising Star Racing, it’s like the ultimate Rubik’s Cube.

“With Art, he’s been a huge blessing in my life, not just in racing. He’s taught me about the world, business, and how to be successful. I was chatting with him the other day, traveling, being on my own all the time, and there’s more than one kind of father figure. He’s taught me so much about life in general, and he’s a huge influence on my success. Yeah it’s not just me. I had to learn from somewhere. Art is one of these guys.”


Newgarden’s the driver mentor but ultimately he said he doesn’t need to do too much for the group.

“Art has been such a blessing for the young racing community and some of the drivers, specifically Spencer and Neil,” he said.

“Art is one of those rare, great energetic people to be around with enthusiasm and a big passion for motor racing. The passion is a big component for Art. He wants to help. Part of the problem is finding the money or support, specifically for young Americans. It’s made an impact.

“My part has been to help present it correctly. It’s to help create the direction and be a part of the growth. It’s been something he’s put together well. He loves motor racing, and is pretty damn good at working the business end of it.”

Wilmes’ love of sales is what helps drive both him, and the business model.

“Our focus has always tended to be using racing as a platform for sales,” he said. “I still believe most racing will have to eventually deal with this, that people have to have demonstrable value out of what they’re spending. So how do you use racing for business purposes? And I think the sponsors understand that.

“I do with my own business, with people I’ve never met, then we go to a racetrack and I did business with them. They want to know about our drivers, and follow up.

“It’s I guess a perspective… I think we work extremely hard in satisfying the sponsors. It’s easier for us than race teams.

“Our focus is on finding money, making sure the sponsor gets value, assisting them in logistics, all the things necessary, focus on selling or connecting them with someone with we have relationships to directly do business. That’s primarily the approach.”

Going forward, continuing the Rising Star Racing brand development is one of Wilmes’ key goals. It’s apparent with Alberico’s sidepod of his Carlin Indy Lights car featuring the Rising Star Racing logo and branding.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is brand Rising Star Racing, and recognize it more as its own branding entity. That opens up opportunities where all our drivers are your product spokesman. It opens up opportunities where consumer plays want to focus on the segment our guys connect to. That’s a lot about different strategies.”

The Rising Star Racing season kicks off for all three at St. Petersburg this week.

“I enjoy all the work that goes into doing this,” he said. “I enjoy going to track when the season starts, and seeing the results where they just do their thing.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton


Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Cooper Webb wags his finger at Chase Sexton after winning his heat in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.

Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.

Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.

MORE: Eli Tomac gets rebound win in Seattle

Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.

Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Cooper Webb 87.77 2 1
2. Eli Tomac 86.23 3 1
3. Chase Sexton 85.77 1 -2
4. Justin Barcia 80.71 6 2
5. Jason Anderson 80.69 4 -1
6. Ken Roczen 80.46 5 -1
7. Aaron Plessinger 75.86 7 0
8. Adam Cianciarulo 71.13 8 0
9. Christian Craig 69.86 9 0
10. Justin Cooper 62.88 10 0
11. Justin Hill 59.86 11 0
12. Dean Wilson 52.86 12 0
13. Josh Hill 49.00 15 2
14. Colt Nichols 48.67 13 -1
15. Shane McElrath 45.62 14 -1
16. Benny Bloss 43.00 16 0
17. Grant Harlan 38.08 20 3
18. Max Miller 37.67 24 6
19. Lane Shaw 36.67 21 2
20. Cade Clason 34.67 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Jett Lawrence regained the top spot overall in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings with a near-perfect race in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.

Lawrence is now two wins away from capturing the fourth-most wins at this level.

A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.

Supercross 250 Points

A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.

In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.

Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Jett Lawrence – W 90.75 2 1
2. Hunter Lawrence – E 90.43 1 -1
3. Nate Thrasher – E 84.00 3 0
4. Cameron McAdoo – W 80.50 4 0
5. Haiden Deegan – E 78.21 5 0
6. Jeremy Martin – E 78.00 6 0
7. Jordon Smith – E 76.77 7 0
8. RJ Hampshire – W 76.75 10 2
9. Levi Kitchen – W 76.67 8 -1
10. Max Anstie – E 74.43 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 73.67 9 -2
12. Max Vohland – W 72.55 13 1
13. Tom Vialle – E 72.07 12 -1
14. Pierce Brown – W 68.64 19 5
15. Enzo Lopes – W 67.83 17 2
16. Chris Blose – E 67.43 15 -1
17. Chance Hymas – E 67.10 16 -1
18. Michael Mosiman – E 65.80 18 0
19. Stilez Robertson – W 64.45 14 -5
20. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 20 0

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT SEATTLE: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Cooper Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage