When life is good, you “burger.”
Tristan Nunez has burgered a lot for a 17-year-old aspiring race car driver.
Racing team owner and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher C.J. Wilson hopes Nunez and the rest of his Mazda Miata MX-5 team will be burgering all weekend at the United States Air Force 25 Hours of Thunderhill race in Willows, Calif. The flag drops at 11 a.m. Pacific on Saturday.
The gesture itself is simple -- just hold out your hand like you’re about to grab onto a big burger.
“It’s just sort of a funny thing I got from some of the Skip Barber guys here in Northern California," Wilson (@str8edgeracer) told Playbook on Thursday before his team resumed practice for this weekend’s race. "They‘ve been doing it for a long time. I love hand signals and inside gestures and we started doing it to each other – we’d actually do it to each other on the track. "It’s 100 percent an inside joke about how happy you are to be in that moment and how awesome that particular thing is you just did or how cool the weather is. It’s a very positive thing.”
Wilson doesn’t expect it to carry over to the diamond.
“Nobody knows about it in baseball. People would think it was probably making a sign for my name since it looks like a ‘C,’" Wilson said. "Baseball people are peculiar. They prefer two hands.”
Nunez (@Tristannunez) has been burgering a lot in 2012. He captured the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, England, while racing on a Team USA scholarship after taking the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda series championship as a rookie in 2012.
Wilson first met Nunez when the young driver was just 13, when they were both students at the Skip Barber School in South Carolina in 2009.
“He was somebody I clicked with. He was very serious and professional in his approach. I thought that was really cool. I just wanted to give him some advice from one professional athlete to another aspiring professional athlete,” Wilson said. “I told him four years ago I would have a team someday and I wanted him to be a part of it. He’s a phenomenally talented young driver who broke all sorts of records all over the place and he’s a rising star. He’s got plenty of room to be one of the top, top-tier sports car drivers in the world.”
Nunez first knew Wilson as “Chris” and was introduced to burgering via a decal on Wilson’s Hans device the first weekend they met.
Nunez referred to Wilson as the “The Burger Dude,” eventually learning he was also a major league pitcher after he and his mom searched “Chris Wilson” on Google. The two raced together at Atlanta and in Homestead a year later.
“Whenever there was an epic race or a gnarly racing maneuver, the burger sign was always displayed. It was like a secret handshake that only a select few people knew about,” Nunez wrote in his blog, telling Playbook: “I feel like the whole burgering thing could turn into one of those viral videos that once people start doing it, you can't stop. It's relatable in so many situations."
Wilson’s Mazda team and Scottish driver Stevan McAleer won the 2012 Playboy MX-5 Cup Championship. They will be racing in a similar car this weekend.
“The first championship is important to get out of the way,” Wilson said. His baseball commitment means Wilson is a part-time owner (who isn’t allowed to drive) when it comes to being at the track, so this weekend’s race affords him the rare chance to be there for testing through the checkered flag. “I even brought up my chef this weekend to cook for the drivers and crew,” he said.
Nunez, of Boca Raton, Fla., will be joined on Wilson’s team by McAleer, the veteran at age 28, Spencer Pigot, 19, of Orlando, the 2012 runner-up in INDYCAR’s USF2000 National Championship, and Elliott Skeer, 18, of San Diego, a race winner in the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Playboy Cup and winner of the 2011 MX-5 Cup Shootout.
While each driver on Wilson’s team has won at least one championship, their biggest challenge could be dealing with the various heights during driver changes. For instance, Nunez is 6-foot-2; Skeer is 5-7.
Wilson hopes to promote his young drivers as a successful team, which he believes will only enhance each of their individual careers.
“For me, Tristan, Elliott, Spencer and Stevan are all so talented I want to help them out, but they’re each on their own development path. They have more value as a team than they do individually," Wilson said. "In the same way that a baseball player, if he’s on a bad team, does him no good to be great in the long run because it’s all about winning.”
And Nunez appears to be a team player.
— Tristan Nunez Racing (@tristannunez) December 6, 2012
"C.J. has given me a huge opportunity this weekend and it's really a great warm-up for 2013. I want to move up into Grand Am or ALMS [in 2013] and my dream is to one day race at LeMans so this experience is definitely a step in the right direction,” Nunez said. “I’m beyond stoked."
A total of 73 entries are confirmed for the race, which will be contested at Thunderhill Raceway Park, a 3-mile, 15-turn road course about an hour south of Sacramento.