Connor Zilisch’s Freshman Year

On December 31st, 2020, Jim Zilisch posted a photo of his 14-year-old son Connor standing on top of his family’s RV, hands on his hips, looking out to the horizon. Pictured beside him stands Gary Willis, Connor’s kart racing coach of eight years. Gary’s arms are crossed as he stands beside Connor, gazing out over the pits, watching the sun set on their final race weekend together as driver and coach.

“This isn’t the best picture I’ve ever taken. But then again, it might be. It’s a picture of a kid who loves to race and a coach who he’s known for more than half his life — probably for as long as he has the capacity to remember. A talented and confident kid who’s grown from a baby in a powder blue helmet to a 30-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body. A kid standing at the crossroads of a journey that has given him so much.

Despite his self-assuredness, he’s still just a kid. Hopeful for the future, full of dreams, and undoubtedly a little sad to be leaving this chapter behind. Gary will always be his coach. They will remain connected by an unbreakable bond borne from going to battle on the track so many times over so many years. Years of teaching, loving, laughing, yelling, winning, and losing while traveling together to tracks across the world.  

Gary always says he hates Sundays. ‘Pack-up days.’ And he was probably, like me, extra reflective on this one. The emotions of moments like this can sneak up on you. Life is surely short and we’re all very fortunate to have found each other and to have become friends and family. That is a chapter that will never end. Thanks for everything, coach. Happy New Year.” – Jim Zilisch

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