INDIANAPOLIS — Stefan Wilson had a little over two weeks prepare for this past year’s Indianapolis 500. For next year’s 107th Running of the race, he now has a little over a half of a year. On Thursday from the Thermal Club in California, the team’s headquarters and home track on the west coast, as well as next seasons’ site of the NTT INDYCAR Series preseason test in February, Cusick Motorsports announced that they have partnered with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to bring Stefan Wilson to the No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet in efforts of making his 5th start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“I’ve been very impressed with how hard Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has worked at and focused on the Indy 500,” said Wilson. “It’s such an honor for me to join them in partnership with Cusick Motorsports and work on our collective goal of trying to win the Indy 500. There’s a great opportunity here for us to all grow together. I hope this leads to more 500’s, and maybe even more races together.”
Before we can get to the future, let alone next May, you first have to rewind and go back to this very track that they were announcing this new venture at to how this relationship even begun.
At the time of the initial meeting, Wilson didn’t have any future rides lined up in open wheel. So, he wondered if he could cut it as a NASCAR driver. Before he wanted to venture down that road down south, he knew that he needed to test one and his questioning led him to the Thermal Club. That’s because Don Cusick owned a NASCAR and a track that he could test at.
So Wilson set off to California to hop into a stock car in hopes of this new endeavor potentially taking down a new road of racing. Instead, without even testing an INDYCAR, the two paired up and will return to Indy for a second straight year on the biggest stage in tag world.
It’s a remarkable story that started off with a NASCAR path, went from Cusick being star struck with Wilson even being there, to Cusick asking Wilson if he knew of how to get good tickets to the Indy 500 to Wilson shooting his shot.
“Yeah, essentially at the time I’ve been out of the Indy 500 for two years, and I was starting to look at other racing opportunities,” Wilson told me. “I was looking at potentially doing some NASCAR road races. I had asked around to see if anyone owned an old NASCAR that I could do some laps in and figure out a stock car. It just so happened that someone I know knew Don and knew that he owned a NASCAR and asked him if I could come out, and that’s basically what I did.
“I came out there. I drove Don’s NASCAR. We developed a friendship. About two or three weeks later, Don texted me. I got a text from Don that says, ‘hey do you know where I could get some good tickets?’ I was like, Yeah, sure. I gave him my contact to get some sweet tickets. He said, I’m going to buy extra. Would you like to go? I was, like, Man, last time I was there, I was leading laps, and it would be hard for me to come back and sit in the stands. He said, Well, let’s fix that. Let’s get you in a car. I was like, Okay, Don. I get it. I appreciate it. But no worries.
“And, no, Don was serious (laughing). So that’s what led to 2021. Yeah, I can’t thank Don enough really for the support, the faith, and the trust in me that he has shown in me. It’s more than any other person in my career that’s believed in me.
“I feel an immense amount of — I wouldn’t say pressure, but I want to repay that faith that Don has put in me and obviously get a result. I’m hungry for that this year, to get a good result for Don and Dennis, two people that have shown faith and trust in me.”
Cusick just calls himself an old INDYCAR groupie that was stoked to just have Wilson wanting his time.
“You know, fortunately, I guess, or financially, probably, unfortunately, but fortunately for the friendship and all the fun, Stef and I just hit it off,” he says. “We had breakfast and talked through it. I was pretty star-struck to be sitting with an INDYCAR driver.
“He is just a great guy, I guess, is the best way to describe it. I sold my company. Indy was always a dream of mine when I was racing quarter midgets and beyond. Just kind of a cool deal. I thought, well, if he can get a ride, that’s going to be the full immersion experience for me.
“And I think at that time we both contemplated probably it being a one and done, but I just fell in love once I saw Indy for the first time and was hanging out there. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do on Memorial Day Weekend if we didn’t get back in the race last year.
“So that was pretty wicked. We got it done, and now here we find ourselves with a little bit of credibility and a really good race team, and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s coming up.”
As far as what led DRR, Cusick and Wilson together?
“We had always hoped we could get a relationship with someone like DRR,” Cusick says. “They were number one on our list of potential partners for 2023. Anders and Stefan did the majority of the legwork and put together proposal and sent it out and had the conversations that needed to be had.
“I didn’t actually talk to Dennis until after the deal was signed. I had an opportunity to get on the phone with him several times and talk it all through.
“For me the faith that the entire DRR team put in Stefan and the way they talked and treated him was super heartwarming. I mean, it’s probably an overused analogy, but they made us feel like we’re part of the family. That’s pretty unique, especially in what we’re doing.
“Yeah, that’s been great. Like I said, my analogy is kind of like we’ve been dating for a little while now, and now we’re going to go to the next step. I feel really, really good about it, and I really like those guys, and I think we’re going to make some good things happen and surprise a few people in the process.”
Dennis Reinbold, like Cusick, just gushed over Wilson as far as what impressed him the most to get this dialogue going.
“We’ve talked to Stefan before, and I really appreciate his persistence and his hunger,” he said. “And all the attributes you want in a driver he comes with. He is ready and excited to get going more so than — his excitement level really is contagious.
“And so him really, as well as Anders, putting Don and I together to have the conversation and then get to the point we are, it’s like, yeah, I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going.
“We’ve done a lot of kind of partnerships in the past that haven’t worked out very well. There have been a lot of factors involved because of different agendas and different ideas on how to go about things.
“We’re on the same page, and that’s the only way you can do it and be successful. I feel like we’re positioning ourselves and this program to be a really good program that could continue on for sure.”
Now that they are teamed up, this could be the beginning of what most consider the best opportunity Wilson has had at winning the big race. While Wilson has appeared in the Indy 500 for a team like Andretti Autosport twice, this entry may be his best shot at winning. DRR has been phenomenal at Indy lately. Sage Karam finished 7th in this car in 2021 while Santino Ferrucci was 10th a year ago in the 2nd entry.
“Yes, I do,” Wilson said on if this is his best shot of winning this race. “I can’t thank Andretti enough for what they did for me in the years that I ran with them, but this time it has a little different feeling to it. I can’t thank Team Chevy enough as well. I’m excited to work with team Chevrolet again.
“As we’ve all said, this effort, there is so much focus on the 24 car and from internally and the team that it feels like we’re all pulling in the same direction, and we’ve got a lot of runway to plan and get prepared for May.
“So, yeah, I’m really excited. What they showed last year, and the previous year, really, the race cars they have, the race setup, is really strong, and their qualifying form this year was really strong as well.
“So with all that stuff we’re working on in the offseason, we’re only going to make that better. Yeah, I think, like I said before, this team really needs to get a lot more credit for what they’ve achieved in the last couple of years.”
By being an Indy only operation, it allows them the luxury of preparing for just one race, on one discipline of tracks and can throw all their eggs in one basket. It clearly worked in 2022. It can work in 2023.
“We feel like we have as good a shot as anyone. We specialize in the 500,” says Reinbold. “We don’t specialize on those other tracks. We specialize at the Indy 500. We’re confident in our ability to get out there and prepare and do what it takes to be in the mix.
“We were in the mix last year, fortunately, with Santino and Sage as well running in the top five to six cars with Santino and around the 12th place car for much of the race last year.
“So we know what it takes and the preparation, dedication, offseason testing to get to that level, and it’s not inconsequential. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to have the driver that can deliver on that once you get in that position. We feel good about it.
“So I’m just excited about going into the month of May and starting our testing. And we’ve already started our testing, but continuing our testing. And it’s like the old saying, is it May yet? We’re ready to go.”
As a team tenured in the Indianapolis 500 and NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has been competing in the famed 500-mile event since 2000 and qualified 45 cars over its course of competition. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Stefan Wilson also have a family tie together as Wilson’s late brother, Justin, drove as a full-time entry for the team in the 2010 and 2011 seasons in the IndyCar Series.
The elder Wilson had 12 top 10 finishes in 28 starts with DRR including a pair of runner-up finishes at that. One of those 12 top 10’s was a 7th place run in the 2010 Indy 500.
“There’s history here with this team,” Stefan Wilson continued. Justin [Wilson, Stefan’s late older brother] spent two years with DRR back in 2010-2011 and secured podiums. I got to know Dennis (Reinbold), Brett De Bord and Chase Selman really well back then, so it just feels great to be rejoining them in a sense. I also have to say a big thank you to Don Cusick, who has put more faith in me than anybody else in my career. I’m honored to represent Cusick Motorsports and all our partners and will do my utmost to make the most of this fantastic opportunity.”