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Donald Wilson Jr. looks to turn his Chicago Match Race Center into hub of international sailboat competitions
October 28, 2009
A 1997 headline in the Tribune declared Donald Wilson Jr. the “whiz kid” of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Now 41, Wilson, founder and CEO of DRW Trading Group, a derivatives trading firm, is trying to turn Chicago into a worldwide center for competitive sailing.
Earlier this year, he launched the Chicago Match Race Center, which has swiftly grown for one reason: Wilson’s wealth. This winter, he’s scouting for corporate sponsors for the center’s 2010 regattas, new members and, most of all, skilled competitors. Wilson won the center’s first regatta here in June.
“Defacto, it’s run as a benevolent dictatorship, because I’m paying for it all,” he said, declining to say how much money he has invested.
In match racing, identical sailboats race head to head on a course, usually with on-the-water umpires.
Wilson began sailing as a teenager in Switzerland and moved back to the United States to attend the University of Chicago, graduating in 2 1/4 years. He once paid $102,600 in a charity auction to observe a prestigious yacht race from onboard, serving as the so-called 18th man.
Wilson rents space for the center from the Chicago Park District at the north end of Belmont Harbor. And, so far, he has purchased eight new racing boats, four boats for umpires and a 70-foot houseboat that acts as a clubhouse. He also is buying four highly coveted boats for a new Olympic women’s sailing event.
The center’s top race this year attracted competitors from New Zealand, Japan and Europe.
“It’s only taken (the center) one year to make an impact on match racing in this country,” said Jake Fish, a spokesman for the United States Sailing Association. “Another interesting thing is that they really take care of their umpires, paying for all of their travel expenses. So they’re attractive for race management as well.”