August 8, 2016
This is going to be the most random, disorganized post I’ve written. Most of the time, I am straight to the point. They beat that into me in Journalism school. In TV and Radio, you get to the point. You don’t waste words. I don’t think I’m going to waste words; there are just so many of them. There are so many thoughts. This is a piece that I wish I wasn’t writing.
I’ve been writing this in my head all day. It started shortly after I woke up. I’ve had probably ten ways to start this. Maybe I chose the wrong one, but it doesn’t matter.
I woke up this morning and mentioned to Crystal that I just did not sleep well last night. I feel like I woke up every half hour or so. The sleep monitor on my Fitbit doesn’t show this, but I was pretty restless. I couldn’t fall asleep either. I didn’t know why. At one point when she woke up she looked at the time and asked me if I was okay. Yes, I was okay. I just couldn’t sleep.
As she started to get ready for work, I picked my phone up off the night stand. I went to Twitter. I went to search “Bryan Clauson,” just like I did probably 50 times yesterday. That’s when I saw it. There was a USAC press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 20 minutes later. I’ve followed racing for 20 years and this wasn’t my first rodeo. I didn’t like the sound of it. I walked in to the bathroom and started to put in my contacts. She walked in and I said “I’m pretty sure that he died.” I had teared up and she questioned my putting them in, thinking I should just wear glasses. I still wore them today.
It was just a year ago another press conference called on short notice. It was the day after Justin Wilson’s incident at Pocono. Within a couple hours after the stoppage of the 2011 IndyCar race in Las Vegas, there was a press conference. The world had lost Dan Wheldon. I don’t ever like the feel of press conferences after bad incidents. Sadly, you just know sometimes.
Most of you have no idea who Bryan Clauson is. There’s nothing wrong with that. I can’t write a piece any better than what’s been written, so I am posting links throughout. This is the story from indycar.com:
“INDIANAPOLIS – Bryan Clauson was happiest when he was behind the wheel of a race car. In fact, the happiest day of his life may have been earlier this year on May 29, when he had his best Indianapolis 500 finish in the afternoon and drove a sprint car to the feature victory at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway that night.
Clauson, 27, died Sunday evening from injuries sustained in a crash the night before at the Belleville (Kan.) Nationals midget race on the half-mile dirt oval. Clauson was airlifted to Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb., but did not survive.
“This is certainly a sad day for the racing community as a whole, and on behalf of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we send our deepest condolences to the family of Bryan Clauson,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “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. While he’ll be remembered most as a legend of short-track racing, his participation in the Indianapolis 500 exemplifies his fearlessness, true versatility as a competitor and the pure depth of his talent as a driver.”
Clauson, a resident of Noblesville, Ind., was considered the nation’s top short-track dirt-car driver with four U.S. Auto Club national championships – two in sprint cars and two in midgets – as well as wins in prestigious events the likes of the Chili Bowl, Turkey Night Grand Prix and Belleville Nationals.
In the mold of old-school racers like A.J. Foyt, Gary Bettenhausen and Tony Stewart, eager and willing to race anything anywhere, Clauson set a goal in 2016 of competing in 200 races, including the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Driving the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, Clauson finished a career-best 23rd in this year’s Indy 500 and led his first laps in the historic race.
Saturday’s race at the Belleville Nationals, where Clauson was the defending champion, was the 116th on his trek toward 200. He picked up his 27th feature win this season in the midget race Wednesday night at Beloit, Kan.
“Short-track racing has always been the heart and soul of auto racing in America,” said Doug Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president. “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,” Boles added. “His spirit, his positive outlook and his thrilling talent will be missed by the entire racing community. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are with the Clauson family in this difficult time.”
The native Californian earned a USAC-INDYCAR scholarship for winning the 2010 USAC national driver’s title. The scholarship earned Clauson six Indy Lights starts in 2011 in a car shared with current Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Conor Daly at Sam Schmidt Motorsports while Clauson continued to race in USAC’s national series. His best finish in eight career Indy Lights races was third at Iowa Speedway in 2011.
Clauson won the scholarship award again in 2012, allowing him to make his Indianapolis 500 debut that year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, qualifying 31st and finishing 30th. Clauson returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015, finishing 31st in the Indy 500 for KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.
Clauson also served as a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2007-08, winning an ARCA race in 2007. He made 21 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in 2008, finishing second in rookie points where he teamed occasionally with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti.
Clauson is survived by his parents, Tim and Di, his sister Taylor and fiancée Lauren Stewart. Funeral arrangements are pending.
In lieu of flowers, or to make a donation, people may direct 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.”
I can’t say that I knew Bryan Clauson. Sure, I met him once. That’s a lot different than knowing someone. When he was attempting to make his first Indianapolis 500 in 2012, there was an event at a park in Noblesville, Indiana in his honor. It was his hometown and where I was living at the time. It was well attended and there were a lot of family and friends. I’ve not been married (yet), but I would say it was like a wedding, in a way. So many people he wanted to see, thank and talk to. Though he was rushed, I was able to get him to sign a couple of cards for me and also get a picture with him and his car owner, Sarah Fisher.
A few minutes. That was all. So why am I so upset over all of this? There are people in my life that don’t get it at all. Hell, I don’t even completely understand. Undoubtedly, part of it is that I just don’t deal well with death. While other family members can sit through viewings and funerals with stoic faces, I can’t. I bawled like a baby at both of my grandmothers’ funerals. I have teared up at funerals of those I didn’t even particularly care for.
Maybe it’s that as a race fan, you feel more attached to your driver than fans in stick and ball sports. I could tell that in Dale Earnhardt’s last couple of years, he had changed. He was more relaxed. I’m sure much of it was because his son was now racing with him. Undoubtedly, he wanted to win, just probably not as badly as ten years prior. There is no doubt that just moments before he lost his life, he was using his mirrors and blocking so that his close friend and son could stay in the top two spots and fight it out for the win. He had become more likeable. He had become my favorite, right alongside Jeremy Mayfield. Then, it was over. I found out at work, but it didn’t sink in until I got home and saw that image on ESPN with his name and dates.
When I moved to Indianapolis and got into IndyCar racing, Dario Franchitti was my guy. I met him in the pits and he was just the nicest guy ever. He came back after an attempt at NASCAR, but to me, he didn’t seem as genuine and friendly. I gravitated toward Dan Wheldon. In 2011, I waited (and waited and waited) on pit line while to talked to Sam Schmidt for what seemed like an hour. He was more than happy to sign the mini helmet that I had and even asked me “Would you like me to put the number from the year I won?” Why yes I would, and thank you!
During the wait, I struck up a conversation with a girl, probably my age of a couple of years younger and she told me a story. You see, she was with two of her friends that were up against the pit wall yelling for Dan to come over. At one point, he looks over at them and a grin that only Dan Wheldon can make crosses his face. He knew the girls. One in particular had a yearly ritual with him. Apparently, she would propose to him yearly. It’s just a small thing, but he knew exactly who they were and if I remember correctly, he knew them by name. Later that month, he won the Indianapolis 500 in probably the most dramatic and unlikely finish ever. Five month later, he was gone. We found out after the race that just the night before, he and his wife Holly had gone out and gotten matching tattoos on their wrists.
The spring after Dan Wheldon died, the company that I worked for began a two year stint as the official retailed of IndyCar and I was one of the two guys working on it. After losing Wheldon and combining that I had a job to do, I didn’t have a favorite driver anymore. I just loved racing.
Just a year ago, Justin Wilson was killed in an incident that can’t be described as anything other than random. I can’t say that I was a fan, of his, so to speak. I was still in my “I don’t have a driver mode” but it was well known how good of a man he was. He loved his family and had recently started a company so that he could have something to “leave” his kids. Justin Wilson didn’t get rich in racing. In recent memory, he is the best driver that never made it to one of the top teams. This one hurt for a different reason. I know others that knew him well. I actually found out a couple of hours before the press conference that he had passed away.
I actually grabbed my keys, got into my car and drove off. I didn’t say a word about where I was going. I wasn’t going to be able to talk without losing it. A text had to suffice. I drove around for a few minutes, found a place and just parked. I don’t know how long I was there but eventually I regained my composure and headed home.
There’s something about many drivers. We just feel like we know them.
I tend to over think at times. I’m sure that my inability to sleep last night was in any way related to Bryan having already passed. I can’t help but think it, though. I remember the night that my grandmother died. I was in college and working at Walmart. We knew that she was in her last few days. While I was “red-lining,” a weird chill and feeling went through my body. I hadn’t felt it before nor have I since. It was weird. Once I got home that night, I found out that she had passed. It was right around the time of that strange chill. It’s not that I had a particular attachment to Clausen, but I can’t help but draw some parallel.
Three days ago, I would have light-heartedly joked that I’m a curse. I was a huge fan of Earnhardt and Wheldon at the times of their fatal wrecks. When I attended the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was wearing a driver t-shirt. I will give you one guess as to whose it was. I know that it’s nothing more than happenstance, but it is really weighing on me.
There have been many emotions throughout the day. Obviously, sadness is the greatest. I hate that the world has lost what truly appears to have been a great young man. When I say that, I’m removing that fact that he was one of the most versatile and best drivers in the world. I feel for his parents. I can’t imagine having to bury my own son. Earlier I mentioned a wedding atmosphere. Sadly, he didn’t experience a wedding. He leaves behind a fiancé that you can tell was fully behind what he was doing with his life. I love dogs. He loved his dog Chevy and even has a Twitter account for him. What is that poor little guy thinking, having not seen his owner in a couple of days now? I know it may sound crazy to think about his dog, but these are things that have gone through my head today.
Someone that I’m sure many don’t think about is the driver that hit him in the fatal wreck. By all accounts, he could not miss him. I don’t know because I haven’t, and won’t, watch the wreck. Even knowing that there’s nothing he (or she) could have done better, it has to weigh on them.
Then there’s the emotion I have felt after a driver’s passing before and certainly will again – anger. I’m speaking of anger toward people capitalizing monetarily on someone’s death. A friend messaged me last night that it had started. I took a look at eBay and rolled my eyes. I looked again today and found this.
It was listed this morning and sold. I hope that karma…well, I am not going to say exactly what I’m thinking.
This has happened before and will again. I worked the night that Dale Earnhardt died. Someone came through my line with all the diecast that were out. He actually said “If I can’t triple my money on these I’m bringing them back,” and was laughing as he said it.
If I’d wanted to, I could have probably made $2500 off Dan Wheldon autographs the evening he died. I looked at eBay (as I always do) and the signed hero cards from the Indianapolis 500 went off at $700-800 that evening. I had two of those. I also had a signed mini helmet and multiple cards. There’s just no way I could capitalize on someone’s death like that. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. In this case, I don’t fault that seller. These had been online in auction format and were scheduled to go off that night. I have no issue with that. It’s the sellers that start listing things immediately.
If you’re still reading, thank you. Writing is therapeutic for many. I’ve never written as therapy until today and I think it’s been good for me. I promised you some cards and I will deliver. The only ones that I know of are from his NASCAR days, unfortunately. IndyCar can’t seem to make it happen…
These are the two cards that Bryan signed for me that day. At this time, they are the only two autographs of his that I have. At some point, I’m sure that I will add more.
I had to go dig these out. They were in the box of cards that I took to Indianapolis with me in May. I was going to get him to sign them if I had the chance. My plan was to send them through the mail at some point, but obviously I have missed that opportunity.
Clauson would use #parkedit after a win. I can confidently say that he’s parked it in a better place this time. Godspeed kid…rest peacefully.