Remembering Bryan Clauson, The Top Short-Track Driver This Decade

Photos by Bobby Kimbrough

The first week in August, three years ago, we lost the most versatile open-wheel racer of modern times. Bryan Clauson was involved in a crash in a Belleville Nationals Midget race on August 6, 2016. The young 27-year-old driver would pass away the following night, leaving a huge hole in dirt track open-wheel racing.

Clauson was fatally injured in race #116 of the 200 scheduled races the driver planned on participating in. The incredible 200 race schedule agenda was billed as “The Chasing 200 Tour, Circular Insanity.”

In a sport where most local racers get 20 to 30 races during the season, and regional racers may get 30 to 50 races in a year, Clauson was chasing four or five times that. Incredible as it sounds, Clauson had been running around 150 shows a year previously. This timetable required Bryan to live out of a motorhome and travel the country.

Clauson was one of the very few modern sprint/midget car racers to make the transition to the Indianapolis 500. The dirt open-wheel cars were once the only pathway to the Indy 500, but recent decades have seen other series feed the great race. Now the IndyCar series is the predominant means of having an attempt to qualify for the Great American Sweepstakes.

He had qualified for the Indy race three years prior, with increasingly better results each time. His fans were eagerly anticipating his next attempt at the biggest spectacle in motorsports.

He earned his last Eldora victory on May 6 of 2016. It was his first and much-coveted USAC sprint car victory at Eldora with the Don Branson/Judd Larson Classic win.

“We’ve been so close here a number of times and we were close again to giving it away,” Clauson told the cheering crowd from victory circle. “But after getting through those last few laps, we were finally able to get the monkey off our back. Man, it feels good to win a sprint car race at Eldora!”

 

Everything changed just three months later on August 6, 2016.

Clauson had won the Annual Bevelle Midget Nationals three-times in the past. He was primed to win his Fourth title in the prestigious event. Starting in the Ninth position, he worked his way quickly through the field. On lap 13 of the 40 lap event, Clauson took the lead from Tanner Thorson. 

On lap 14, while entering the top of turns three and four, he touched wheels with a lapped car. Clauson’s car hit the fence and flipped end-over-end on the high side of the track, landing on its side just on the path of the oncoming car. Clauson’s car was struck in the cockpit, at a high rate of speed. 

Rescue workers removed Clauson from his twisted car, placed him in an ambulance where he was transported to a spot where he could be airlifted to the hospital. He remained under the care of the medical staff until Sunday night, when he succumbed to his injuries. His organ donation helped save five lives and heal dozens more with his tissue and organ donations. His family and friends have made organ donation a primary cause of the Bryan Clauson Foundation. 

We will remember Bryan Clauson for all the goodwill that his life brought to the sport and the world.

During his racing career, Clauson won:

  • 3 USAC National Midget Series championships (2010, 2011, 2015).
  • 3 USAC National Drivers Champion honors (2010, 2011, 2012)
  • 2 USAC National Sprint Car Series Champion (2012, 2013)
  • Non-winged Driver of the Year (2013)
  • Won the Chili Bowl (2014)
  • 3-time Belleville Midget Nationals Champion (2009, 2010, 2015)
  • 2-time Turkey Night Grand Prix Winner (2009, 2010)
  • A 4 Crown Midget win (2014)

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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