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Remembering An Old-School Hero In A New-Age Light

Bryan Clauson in the garage at Indianapolis. [Russ Lake Photo]

Bryan Clauson in the garage at Indianapolis. [Russ Lake Photo]

He called it “Circular Insanity.”

No one had ever attempted to race in 200 automobile races in a single calendar year, but he was going to do it.

Bryan Clauson lived to drive race cars, and he did it divinely and famously well. He owned four U.S. Auto Club national championships, and if you asked around you would soon learn the respect with which he was held among the peripatetic, barnstorming heroes who travel to and run at small, unheralded tracks around the Midwest and West—he was considered the best short-track racer in America at eminent stations like the World of Outlaws Gold Cup in Chico, California; the Chili Bowl in Albuquerque, the Volusia dirt car Nationals.

Bryan Clauson could drive anything, and did, gathering starts in IndyCar, Indy Lights, NASCAR, ARCA, WOO, and USAC behind the wheel of quarter-midgets, winged and unwinged cars, sprint cars, formula cars, stock cars, IndyCars and more in his too-short career. And he did it at exceptional age, becoming the youngest driver to win a USAC national event at the 2005 Open Wheel Oktoberfest in Columbus, Ohio.

Sitting in his garage at a corner table, six feet away from his race car, he described the challenges of the marathon charge to compete in 200 racing events in 2016—a rush he was taking into the unknown because it was the biggest trial of mind and body he could imagine in a racing life. At that point he was approximately one quarter (56 races) of the way through his quest for bicenturion glory. Within a couple of weeks he had pushed the count to 60, including the Indianapolis 500 among that number.

Clauson had it all worked out. The big months were going to June, July, and August when the dirt-tracks and short-ovals across the mid-western states are humming with racing competition. He rented a recreational vehicle for himself and his two dogs and fiancée to travel the country. He mapped out the dates and places of the important sprints he wanted to include on his list, so no one could say his accomplishment was achieved on the backs of a bunch of push-over unknowns either. ““It’s about racing at the marquis short tracks, at places I might never have seen before or couldn’t get to before,” he told me, “and it’s about getting out, seeing the country,”

At that point, he had already figured out one of the greater joys (aside from winning) of life on the uncluttered road. “One of the best places we have been was in Casey, Illinois. They have the world’s largest rocking chair,” he said with a grin. “We’ve also been to the Wal-Mart museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and gone to the Professional Bull Riders rodeo in Des Moines.”

Clauson, 27, died last night (Sunday, August 7) after a hard crash on Saturday night at the Belleville Nationals midget race on the half-mile dirt oval in Belleville, Kansas.

“Anybody who witnessed Bryan behind the wheel of a race car can attest to his elite ability, relentlessness and unbridled willingness to race anything on wheels,” said Mark Miles of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway when informed of the tragedy. “He will be remembered for his fearlessness, true versatility as a competitor and the pure depth of his talent as a driver.”

The Centennial Indy 500 on May 29th of this year was Clauson’s best at the Brickyard on Memorial Day—he led three laps during the competition—one for each year he raced in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The Belleville Nationals race was number 116 of the 200 Bryan sought, over half-way to his goal. It was another milepost on the route of a very respected and brave man who entertained for the pleasure of track-loving young kids seeking an autograph, for parents starved for a night’s excitement after a week of hard labor in a lonely field or a quiet farm-town, for a whole nation of competition-mad seekers looking for fulfillment at something they love.

If you are a racer, not just a driver, but a RACER you live for the thrill of pounding around the paved tarmac or the hard-packed dirt as fast as your car and your courage can take you.

Bryan Clauson was a RACER, in the greatest sense of the word.

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Allan Brewer covers IndyCar and other racing series for RacingNation.com. Allan is a fixture at the race track, armed with keyboard and camera, eager to take you inside open-wheel sport where the news is being made. He comes to RacingNation.com with multiple professional awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AWWRBA). He began his motorsports writing career at FastMachines.com; and solely published IndyProRacer.com and A1GP.com, two award-winning websites for open-wheel racing’s junior leagues, prior to becoming IndyCar correspondent at Motorsport.com. He has also covered Formula 1, NASCAR, Formula E, the Indy Lights Series and its predecessor Indy Pro Series, NHRA events and major auto shows. His major interest outside of competition is automotive technology and its application to the cars we drive every day on the public highways.