Not so long ago the best USAC Sprint Car drivers used to have the upper hand when getting an Indy Car ride. The Indianapolis 500 was dominated by American drivers like A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, and Mario Andretti. All of these drivers got their start in USAC Sprint Cars, Silver Crown Cars, and Midgets. These drivers gained superior car control skills and huge fan bases on the dirt tracks across the nation and were quickly scooped up by Indy Car owners who were looking for great drivers. However, over the last couple of decades the USAC drivers have been all but run out of the IndyCar Series in favor of mostly foreign born drivers and road race specialists who have never even raced on dirt. In the last ten years the Indy 500 has been won by Dario Franchitti (United Kingdom), Helio Castroneves (Brazil), Scott Dixon (New Zealand), Dan Wheldon (United Kingdom), Gil de Ferran (Brazil), and Juan Pablo Montoya (Columbia). The only two drivers from the United States to win the Indy 500 in the last decade have been Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Rice and neither one of them came from a dirt track background.
In 2011 there is at least one man banking on the fact the USAC drivers still have the skills to win in Indy Cars. When 21-year-old Bryan Clauson from Noblesville, Indiana wrapped up the inaugural USAC National Drivers Championship in 2010 he also earned a $300,000 Firestone Indy Lights scholarship to compete in the six oval races on the 2011 schedule. The Indy Lights scholarship was the brain child of IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard who came up with this idea after attending a USAC Midget race at Kokomo Speedway where he was impressed by the skill of the young drivers that he saw.
Clauson’s first race with the Indy Lights Series will be the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 27, 2011 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Speaking of his opportunity Clauson said, “I’m really excited about it. It’s been a long time since that door has been open for the short track racer. A lot of us grew up at Indianapolis watching the Month of May and knowing how special a time that is and dreaming to be a part of it. Now to have that opportunity is pretty unbelievable and I don’t that will fully set in until get to the track. Everyone at INDYCAR has put me in a situation to go out and have some success. It will be a completely new venue for me with the rear-engine open-wheel car, but I tell people all the time when they ask how we’re going to adapt I don’t think there’s anything tougher than running USAC. You have to run a mile dirt track in Illinois on Friday with the Silver Crown car and come back on Saturday and run a quarter-mile paved track in a Midget. I think we’ll be able to adapt to the Firestone Indy Lights car pretty quickly.”
Check out the Indy Lights Series promo video below
If Clauson is successful in the Indy Lights Series he could draw a great deal of fans back to IndyCar racing who lost interest in it as the USAC drivers were pushed out in favor of the road race specialists and foreign drivers. This program could also pave the way for more USAC drivers to the IndyCar Series as Levi Jones and Kevin Swindell have been drivers of interest for other Indy Lights team owners. USAC Sprint Car drivers used to rule the Indy 500 and they could be on their way back there starting with Bryan Clauson. For more information on Bryan Clauson visit his website at www.bryanclauson.com.
IZOD IndyCar Series