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Teen Superstar Zilisch Likely One and Done in IMSA WeatherTech Series

18 era motorsport, oreca lmp2 07, lmp2 dwight merriman, ryan dalziel, connor zilisch
Teen Superstar Zilisch Likely One and Done in IMSAIMSA Photo
  • Connor Zilisch already has LMP2 wins in the 2024 Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with co-drivers Ryan Daziel and Dwight Merriman.

  • Zilisch returns to Watkins Glen in September, he’ll be making his first of four starts this year in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports.

  • At the age of 15, Zilisch was signed to a development contract with Chevrolet.


The way things are going with the Era Motorsport team, 17-year-old Connor Zilisch’s first IMSA WeatherTech Championship season may well end with a co-championship in the Michelin Endurance Cup.

If so, he will be one and done. The wunderkind road racer is on the fast track to the NASCAR Cup Series, where street and road races have become a fixture.

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Zilisch arrives at this weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen looking for a third straight LMP2 win after victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with co-drivers Ryan Dalziel and Dwight Merriman. Those were his first two starts in IMSA’s premier championship series after moving up from the MX-5 Cup.

A steely-nerved winner behind the wheel, the 17-year-old Zilisch is a happy-go-lucky teenager outside his race cars. He says that his “11-year-old self” would like to continue sports car racing on tracks like Watkins Glen for the rest of his career. “If there was more than 52 weekends in a year, I would love to continue,” he said. “But the way things are going I'm not going to be able to race full time (in WeatherTech). I still want to be able to do some one-off races like Daytona.”

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While Connor Zilisch is on track to be the next big thing in NASCAR, he’s already a big deal in IMSA.Sean Gardner - Getty Images

Veteran teammate Dalziel, an occasionally crusty Scotsman, understands why there’s an opportunity for the Mooresville, N.C. driver to move up to NASCAR. He watched at Sebring as Zilisch emerged from a six-car battle during the final round of pit stops to win the LMP2 class by 1.127 seconds.

“Connor is a superstar,” said Dalziel. “Our engineers made a gutsy call (at the) one hour to go mark. We came out in the lead and Connor drove his nuts off.”

When Zilisch returns to Watkins Glen in September, he’ll be making his first of four starts this year in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports. That will be part of his stock car racing education directed by NASCAR Cup team owner Justin Marks, who signed the teenager to a long-term management contract last year. At the age of 15, Zilisch was signed to a development contract with Chevrolet.

The offer to eventually race with Marks’ Trackhouse Racing team in the Cup Series was too hard to turn down—even if it means leaving sports car endurance racing and missing Le Mans. “This is probably gonna be the last year where I'm kind of bouncing around from car to car,” said Zilisch. “I think next year we'll be I'll be settled down a little bit more in one series and racing for a year-long championship.”

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Connor Zilisch has made on start in the NASCAR Truck Series this season, winning the pole and finished fourth at COTA. Jonathan Bachman - Getty Images

At Era Motorsport, Zilisch was a walk-on, getting the seat in the team’s Oreca Gibson 07 during a test at Daytona last fall. After the Glen, he’ll co-drive in the season’s two remaining endurance events, the six-hour at Indy and the Petit Le Mans.

“It's been wild,” he said. “Last year I was running in the lowest level and just trying to find a way to make it through, whether it was going to be in a GT car, whatever it was. I got the opportunity to go down to Daytona and basically do a shootout for a seat, which I honestly didn't have too high hopes for. I'd never driven a car with downforce before. It was just a much different experience for me. But, thankfully, I was able to make it happen.”

“I'm just super glad that they took a chance on a kid of my age,” he continued. “It's tough to take a chance on a 17-year-old who's never done it before. It's definitely risky for them, but I'm glad it's paid off the first two races. I was able to help the team get those two wins.”

There’s been much talk about the schedules around next year’s Le Mans 24-hour, which will exclude NTT IndyCar drivers from entering thanks to a schedule conflict. But NASCAR’s schedule has invariably had a conflict with Le Mans. Zilisch said he’ll just have to keep the French classic on his bucket list.

Unlike a waiver to race twice in one day like Kyle Larson recently received for his double at Indy and Charlotte, NASCAR is wary of its regular drivers pursuing an off weekend at Le Mans and has drawn up its schedule accordingly. Only after he was semi-retired, for example, did Michael Waltrip take on the French enduro. Cale Yarborough raced at Le Mans due to running a limited NASCAR schedule.

“It's one race I want to do, but the way my future's looking right now it's gonna be tough,” said Zilisch. “I still have a long time left in my career, I hope, and hopefully after my days of full time racing stateside are done, I can get the chance to go do the bucket list races that I've always wanted to do.”

So far, Marks’ vision for his young charge’s future on ovals looks good. Zilisch has won three ARCA races this year with the Pinnacle Racing Group, including the most recent at the Iowa Speedway. He survived a furious donnybrook in the cornfields during the Atlas 150 with fellow 17-year-olds William Sawalich and Giovanni Ruggiero to get the win on the 7/8ths-mile oval.