Next time you’re shopping for luxury cars in north Fresno, or just ogling them, don’t assume the talkative guy in the suit who strolls up to greet you is just a salesman.
He might own the whole dealership, plus the one next door.
That would be C.J. Wilson. Who isn’t the stereotypical anything.
Wilson is best known for a 12-year career in major-league baseball as a left-handed pitcher with the Rangers and Angels. Recently retired, the 36-year-old has shifted to the next phase, which includes pitching BMWs, Porsches and Audis to central San Joaquin Valley car buffs.
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“I’m going to try to put Fresno on the map as a performance car market,” Wilson says. “Anybody that’s a car enthusiast is going to know me really well, because I’ll be around.”
Last week, Wilson completed the purchase of BMW Fresno, Audi Fresno and Porsche of Fresno from previous owner Al Monjazeb. The three are the latest and largest of Wilson’s growing chain of dealerships, which now numbers 14. He also owns three Mazda stores, a McLaren store, two that sell BMW motorcycles and a handful of others.
The three dealerships on North Palm Avenue employ about 120 people, all of whom kept their jobs during the transition.
“This is a major-league opportunity for me,” Wilson says. “This is like being called up to the major leagues. I’ve been a car dealer for six years, and all of a sudden I’m a major-league car dealer.”
I’ve learned that being a leader on the baseball field and in the clubhouse and being a leader at the dealership is very similar. You’re trying to inspire people to get the best out of themselves in a capitalistic way, as baseball is.
Beyond selling cars, Wilson has owned a racing team, CJ Wilson Racing, since 2010. He also races himself under the “regular white guy” alias of Chris Wilson, even when doing so violated his baseball contract.
But Wilson no longer has to worry about that.
The Huntington Beach native spent his first seven seasons with the Rangers, pitching in two World Series, before joining his hometown Angels in 2012 on a five-year, $75 million contract.
After Wilson surpassed 200 innings for four straight years, the wear and tear on his left arm began to take its toll. His 2015 season was curtailed due to elbow surgery, and ongoing shoulder trouble (he was throwing with a 50 percent tear of his rotator cuff) forced him to miss the 2016 season.
Wilson considered returning to the mound this spring, where he surely would’ve drawn interest, before deciding that five arm surgeries over the past 16 years along with the months of rehab were something he didn’t want to experience again.
“It’s one of those things that unless all the stars are aligned, it’s no longer worth it from a quality-of-life situation,” he says. “I played 12 years in the majors. That’s a pretty long career, and at this point I’d rather see someone else play.
“I’d rather give some other kid a shot than keep someone in the minors who deserves it more than me.”
It wasn’t like I had anything left. You just get to the point where you’re not that good anymore, and I wasn’t going to go out there a third-tier version of myself.
Rather than make a formal retirement announcement, Wilson and Porsche Motorsports produced a 2-minute video that discussed his love for racing and the parallels between baseball and motor sports.
“A lot of people were asking me what team I was going to sign with,” Wilson says. “I decided to sign with Porsche and with CJ Wilson Racing to race in the GT3 Cup Series.”
Despite his myriad business obligations, Wilson will be an extremely hands-on owner at his three newest dealerships.
Fresno is Wilson’s new home – not just a place where he sells luxury cars. His family, which includes wife Lisalla Montenegro, a Brazilian model, and their 11-month old daughter, also moved to town last weekend. Wilson is selling his house in Corona del Mar and purchasing one here.
Wilson also plans to be a part of the community through his children’s charity, which focuses on kids with rare blood diseases.
“As soon as I figure out what the need is, then we can start targeting how we do events and stuff,” he says. “I think it’s important to support the community that supports you. That’s an ethos for me. I really believe in that.”
Also making the move is part of Wilson’s extensive car collection. His red Ferrari F355 Spider, gray McLaren 675LT, silver Porsche Carrera GT and two sleek Porsche 911Rs are on display on the second floor of Porsche of Fresno – each with a “not for sale” placard on the dash.
Even before he could afford to drop a couple hundred thousand on fancy roadsters, Wilson grew up with “gasoline in his blood.”
Even before he could afford to drop a couple hundred thousand on fancy roadsters, Wilson grew up with “gasoline in his blood.” He remembers going to dirt tracks, where his father worked on a pit crew. Wilson raced go-karts even before he started playing Little League.
Wilson always has been thorough and detailed. (As a kid he taught himself how to throw and swing the bat by emulating players on baseball cards.) Last summer while researching BMW Fresno and having never before owned a BMW, he came in and purchased an M5 just to check out the sales and service departments. If that wasn’t enough, he traveled to Germany and toured the factory.
“I really like the car business, and I’m a tech guy,” Wilson says. “I really like going and seeing these cars before the public does and checking out concept cars and sketches.
“I love that stuff and always have. As a kid, I used to go to auto shows and drool on cars. Same thing now.”
The only difference is he owns the dealership.