EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to Plymouth Speedway announcer Scott Stine, who provided the suggestion that ultimately became the title of this column and was present at Bryan’s USAC Indiana Midget Championship win at Plymouth on May 13.
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — If there ever was a modern-day badass in the United States Auto Club … a driver who hearkened back to the times when A.J. Foyt, and later drivers like Rich Vogler and Tony Stewart, would run anything, anytime, anywhere … Bryan Clauson was it.
Whether it was going 230 mph in a Dale Coyne Racing Indy car, to slinging dirt in a Rusty Kunz-owned USAC national midget, to throwing a wicked slider in the winged 410ci sprint cars he finally found the handle on this season, Clauson was a racer’s racer.
He was a throwback to the era of Foyt, of Parnelli Jones, of drivers who didn’t care whether they were comfortable in the race car … they were going to drive it like hell anyways. He proved that in May, when he finished 23rd at the 100th Indy 500, hightailed it to Kokomo Speedway, jumped in a sprint car he hadn’t set foot in all day and was so far removed from the Indy car he had just gotten out of it wasn’t funny, and won the damn race anyways.
Clauson wasn’t afraid to spend two, three or sometimes even four nights a week at a race track. No, it was what he lived for.
“If I can win 20 races a year, I can make a living in midgets and sprints,” he expressed in the late summer of 2012. “And to me, that’s a pretty damn good life … because it sure beats working (a normal job).”
Clauson had already hit that mark this year, winning a combined 27 feature events between USAC midgets, winged and non-winged sprint cars, and also making his third start at the Indianapolis 500 in May for Dale Coyne Racing — driving a car carrying the legendary Jonathan Byrd’s colors for a blue-collar team that was just happy to be in the conversation at the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.
Oh, by the way … he hit the 20-win mark last year, as well. And the three years before that.
Here’s a breakdown, in case you like looking at the numbers:
- 2012 – 21
- 2013 – 26
- 2014 – 22
- 2015 – 21
- 2016 – 27
But this thing we call racing was more than just numbers for BC. He wasn’t just making a living. He was living out his ultimate dream.
I’ve spent a lot of time at different race tracks the past few years, and several times I was privileged enough to be at a track that Bryan was competing at. Two times that stick out in my mind were the inaugural SPEED SPORT Challenge for mini-outlaw karts at Millbridge Speedway in 2014 and last November at the Bad Boy Buggies World of Outlaws World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte.
Both times I spent part of my day taking in the activity around BC’s trailer, as well as talking to him about everything that he had been doing when he had the moments to spare, in between wrenching or tweaking … whatever he needed to do to ensure that when he jumped behind the wheel, he was going fast and taking names.
I remember, vividly, asking him once: “Does it ever wear on you, running the schedule that you do and shifting between so many different disciplines?”
He laughed softly, and then answered me after a moment with that ever-present twinkle in his eye and the smile that you knew was all in good fun.
“Physically? Maybe a little. But I’m a racer. I live for those moments on-track when I get to go wheel-to-wheel with guys I’ve known for years, guys I trust and guys where I know that whatever happens, we’re having fun and doing this thing we all love.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”