Bryan Clauson, known for his driving prowess and illuminating smile, died Sunday from injuries suffered in a crash while leading the Belleville Midget Nationals on Saturday night. He was 27.
“Last night, the 7th of August, we said goodbye to our son, my fiancé, our friend, Bryan Clauson. He was surrounded by family and friends and we were grateful that we could experience his final moments with him,’’ read a statement from fiancée Lauren Stewart, sister Taylor and parents Di and Tim.
“Our Bryan fought to the end with the same desire that he demonstrated behind the wheel of all the various race cars he would park in victory lane. However, we were more proud of our Bryan that took a moment to make a young fan’s day, or demonstrated his uncommon kindness and appreciation toward his friends, family and fans.
“We would like to thank everybody who has shown their concern toward us and kept us in their prayers. We will never be able to truly thank you. We would also like to thank the staff at Bryan Medical Center who stood and fought with our Bryan since he arrived here early yesterday morning.’’
Clauson suffered severe injuries when his car encountered lapped traffic on the half-mile dirt track in Belleville, Kansas. He hit the wall and rolled several times before his car landed on its side and was struck in the cockpit by an oncoming car. Reports stated that rescue workers needed about 30 minutes to extricate Clauson.
He was airlifted to Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was listed in critical condition, according to an earlier family statement.
Clauson, a Noblesville, Indiana, native who began racing at age 5, sought to run 200 races this season, driving in winged sprint car, non-winged sprint car, midget and Silver Crown races. Saturday’s race was his 116th start. He had scored 27 wins, his last coming on Wednesday in a midget race in Beloit, Kansas. Clauson finished 23rd in the Indianapolis 500 —the third time he’s run that race — and won a 30-lap sprint car race later that night.
“I say a lot of times I have the best gig in racing,” Clauson told the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Indiana, days before the Indy 500. “If I want to go run the Knoxville Nationals, I run the Knoxville Nationals. If I want to go run the Indy 500, that’s there too.
“I wake up every day excited to go to the race track. I don’t know any other way to describe it other than I am lucky to be in the position I am in.”
Clauson was a two-time USAC National Sprint Cup champion, two-time USAC National Midget champion, three-time Belleville Midget Nationals champion, 2014 Chili Bowl champion, won an ARCA race (Gateway in 2007) and also earned the pole for an Xfinity race (Daytona in July 2008). He drove 26 races in the Xfinity Series in 2007-08 as a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Clauson won the 2013 UASC National Sprint Car championship driving for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing.
“That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job,’’ Stewart said after Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Car race at Watkins Glen International. “I don’t care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it. Him and Lauren being engaged; kid had such a bright future.”
Clauson was invited to run some laps with Stewart and Sarah Fisher in a midget car on a temporary 3/16-mile dirt track built inside Turn 3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month. Indianapolis Motor Speedway built the track as a thank you gift for Stewart, who is in his final year racing in NASCAR’s top series.
USAC President and CEO Kevin Miller said of Clauson’s death: “This is truly one of the darkest days in the 60-year history of the U.S. Auto Club. Not only have we lost one of our greatest USAC champions, we’ve lost a true ambassador for all of motorsports.”
Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway said: “Short-track racing has always been the heart and soul of auto racing in America. Bryan Clauson combined his passion and enthusiasm for grassroots racing with a God-given talent that made him the favorite to win every time he got in a midget or sprint car. And he proved on the world’s largest racing stage – by leading three laps in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – that he could use that talent in just about anything with wheels.
“More importantly, he possessed a humility and character out of the race car that made him a person that fellow competitors and fans alike enjoyed being around. His spirit, his positive outlook and his thrilling talent will be missed by the entire racing community.”
Clauson is survived by his parents, Tim and Di, sister Taylor and fiancée Lauren Stewart. Funeral arrangements are pending. A memorial service in his honor will take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a date soon to be announced
In lieu of flowers, or to make a donation, people may direct their contributions to the USAC Benevolent Fund website at http://usacbf.org/cash-donation/ or checks should be made out to the USAC Benevolent Foundation in the name of Bryan Clauson. The address is 124 E Northfield Drive, Suite F #129, Brownsburg, IN 46112.