Remembering Bryan Clauson – The Man

It has now been a couple of days since it was announced that Bryan Clauson succumbed to the injuries he sustained in a crash last Saturday night. Since Doug Boles and Kevin Miller announced his passing early Monday morning, tributes and accolades have been pouring in from all corners of the racing world.

Some of the kind words refer to his outstanding abilities as a racer, and rightfully so. Those that have celebrated his racing prowess have used words and phrases like old school, throwback, would and could drive anything and so forth. That’s because Clauson was like some of the drivers I idolized growing up in the sixties. Drivers like AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and others in that day could drive and win in just about any type of car out there.

In this age of specialization and strict contract limitations, most of today’s drivers pick a certain discipline of racing and stick with it for their entire career – but not Bryan Clauson. As Tony Stewart, one of the few of today’s racers that will regularly jump from one type of car to another, is about to retire from his NASCAR Sprint Cup duties; Bryan Clauson was seen as a younger version of Stewart.

Since 2007, Clauson had driven in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Indy Lights and of course, he was a three-time starter in the Indianapolis 500 – having his best finish less than three months ago by finishing twenty-third driving for Dale Coyne, when he also led three laps. Bryan Clauson has the distinction of being the only driver in history to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 and then win a Sprint Car race that same night.

It was in USAC Midgets and Sprints where Clauson made his mark. He won the Midget championship in 2010 and 2011; and the Sprint Car championship in 2012 and 2013.

Normally, Clauson ran about 150 racing events per year – adding to his reputation as an old-school throwback. This season, Clauson was attempting to run in 200 races in what became known as “The Chasing 200 Tour, Circular Insanity”. His 2016 season included USAC Midgets and Sprints, World of Outlaws sprint cars and wingless sprint cars; as well as the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

This past weekend, Clauson was driving in the Belleville Nationals in Belleville, Kansas on a one-half mile dirt track. It was the 116th race this season in Clauson’s bid for two-hundred. He picked up his twenty-seventh win last Wednesday night at Beloit, Kansas and seemed to be on track for his quest for two-hundred before tragedy struck Saturday night.

But the most poignant tributes for Bryan Clauson over the last couple of days had nothing to do with his on-track skills, his racing statistics or his multiple championships. They focused on Bryan Clauson – the man and the kind of person he was.

I will not claim that I knew Bryan Clauson. I never met him. But I know several people that knew him and loved him – not for what he did on the track, but how he lived his life away from the track. There are those that say Clauson was happiest when he was behind the wheel of a race car. That may be true, but the lives he touched were those that he knew out of the car.

He was not merely liked by his fans and fellow competitors – he was adored by them. There have been countless stories of Bryan Clauson going out of his way to sign an autograph for a wide-eyed kid. He was a great ambassador for the sport of racing – not just USAC, but all of motor racing as a whole. He was passionate about the sport beyond belief and was extremely competitive, but those closest to him say that he never lost his smile – even in his worst days at the track.

The twenty-seven year old resident of Noblesville, Indiana had a strong following and was close friends with racers across the spectrum of motorsports. He was highly respected for his driving abilities, as well as his character.

My heart goes out to his parents Tim and Di, and his sister Taylor. Bryan Clauson was less than three months older than my own son and I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that Bryan Clauson was engaged to be married to his fiancée Lauren Stewart. They were scheduled to be married next February. They are all left to pick up the pieces after having a life snuffed out in the blink of an eye – way too early.

In less than five years, we’ve witnessed three popular drivers taken from us before our very eyes – Dan Wheldon, Justin Wilson and now Bryan Clauson. They say that it’s a part of racing, and it’s true to some extent. I’ve followed this sport for a lot of years. When I was young, I saw seasons where the sport would lose six or seven drivers every year. Now that things are much safer, it is far less common to lose a driver. But whether we lose six or seven a year or one every five years – it never gets any easier. Young or old, superstar or obscure driver – every racing fatality is tough to take.

This sport is not for everyone, whether you are a fan or a participant. It is weeks like this week that makes you question why you still follow a sport that continues to shorten the lives of so many fine men and women. There is no question that racing can be a cruel sport. It can deliver the highest of highs, but also the lowest of lows. But we fans know this and all of the participants know it. For the drivers, the reward is worth the risk. For the fans, we must learn to appreciate every moment we have watching these drivers and getting to know them from afar. Most of them are extraordinary people. That’s what makes it so hard to lose them.

But the sport will continue and most of us will continue to follow it. It’s what we do.

May God provide comfort to the friends and family of Bryan Clauson in the coming weeks, months and years. Their lives have been shattered. After we have mourned, we will not forget Bryan Clauson, but we will move on with our lives. Theirs will never be the same.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Remembering Bryan Clauson – The Man”

  1. This sport can be just brutally cruel sometimes.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I take all of these hard, but I take this one especially hard. I was a fan. I own his t-shirts. I expected to see Bryan competing for years to come, hoping to that he would expand his World of Outlaws schedule so I could see him race in person more than occasionally.

    While I will not get that chance now, I am grateful that I was able to witness his racing talent in person on a handful of occasions. This year alone I saw him in a sprint car at Baytown, TX, a Silver Crown car at the Hoosier Hundred, and at the Indianapolis 500. There is probably not a single other driver during my time as a racing fan that I could have seen do that in a single year. While I never met him outside of a couple of autograph sessions, I am glad to hear the many stories from the fans, friends, and competitors whose lives he did touch. By all accounts, he was as deserving of fandom off the track as he was on it.

    Still, it will take time, as it always does, to process this and move forward. It will take time to remind myself why I love this sport. For those close to Bryan, I cannot even imagine… I can only pray for them.

  3. I cannot add anything to what George has expressed so well here……….just feeling overwhelming sadness…………..again.
    I watched Bryan race on local dirt tracks many times. He
    was a racer through and through and will be long remembered for his outstanding skill and outstanding character.

  4. Brian McKay Says:

    excellent blog post, George

  5. Sports as well as life can be brutally cruel. Considering Prince Fielder having to retire because of a strained neck, I’d say he came out pretty lucky.

  6. Mark Wick Says:

    Nicely written George. Many “pros” couldn’t do better.

  7. Thank you George. Your thoughtful words just helped this race fan a little bit. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Bryan’s family and all those who knew and loved this quality young man.

  8. Edgar Emmitt Says:

    I was on vacation this past week when my daughter said to me Monday as we were just sitting around relaxing that Bryan had died in a race this weekend. I got that sick feeling in my stomach and I wiped a tear from my eye.

    I just said no not Bryan , God Bless Bryan and his family

  9. Thanks so much George for your very touching tribute to Bryan Clauson. I honestly could not say much of anything last week and apologize for my tardiness in replying. I saw him race once in 2014 and so hoped to have that opportunity again in the future. I think he was amazing! My best to his family, friends, and fans.

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