MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Saturday’s three-race slate of major national races in the Midwest combined to create both the ultimate tribute to late USAC champion Bryan Clauson and truly begin the healing process for the motorsports community.
Justin Marks dominated a waterlogged NASCAR XFINITY Series road race on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Kody Swanson capitalized late to capture the USAC Silver Crown Championship’s Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial at Salem Speedway, and Jason Johnson stunned the masses in a 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals nightcap for the ages as he beat nine-time event winner Donny Schatz for the biggest win of his sprint car career.
Each win was special in its own right.
Each win also had an immeasurable tie to BC’s life and career.
For Marks, while the win was important in that it was his first at the NASCAR national level, it was equally as important — if not moreso — for his team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
Clauson drove for CGR during his short-lived stock car career as a teenager in 2007 and 2008, making all but one XFINITY start for Ganassi’s team during his 26 total appearances. He notched a career-best of fifth at Kentucky Speedway in June of 2008, with one top-five, two top 10s and a pole to his credit overall, in addition to an ARCA Racing Series win at Gateway Motorsports Park the year prior.
Saturday afternoon, Marks nailed down the NASCAR national level win that Clauson was never able to achieve, and was emotional as the weight of the week — and the moment — hit home.
“Bryan’s short career in stock car racing came with Chip Ganassi Racing, so it’s great to be able to put this thing in Victory Lane to honor him and think about him,” Marks said. “He’s a real American hero race car driver, Bryan was. They don’t make them like that anymore. We parked it for him in this one.”
Meanwhile, 280 miles away, the United States Auto Club held their first national event since Clauson’s passing on Aug. 7, the 75-lap Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial for the USAC Silver Crown Championship at Salem Speedway.
In that event, Kody Swanson took DePalma Motorsports to victory lane for his 15th career series win, passing Aaron Pierce after Pierce had problems with 15 laps remaining.
Important in Swanson’s win was the number on the side of his car — No. 63.
That number adorned the side of Clauson’s national midgets and his non-winged sprint cars for nearly his “Circular Insanity: Chasing 200″ tour all season long, driving for renowned team owner Rusty Kunz as he chased down a potential 200 feature races between January and November.
It was a fact not lost on Swanson after celebrating his win.
“This means a lot,” Kody said. “(Salem) is a place where it’s usually the braver you are, the faster you go. That’s not my style, but it surely was Bryan’s. We got a little lucky … and were close enough to be able to capitalize on a couple things late in the race.”
“I never have ‘parked it.’ I’ve never felt like I’m worthy enough to use that term, but we “parked it” tonight for BC.”
And finally, more than 600 miles to the west, Jason Johnson completed the ultimate upset and made the trifecta truly memorable.
Johnson went wheel-to-wheel with Knoxville Nationals kingpin Donny Schatz inside of the final 10 circuits Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway and didn’t blink, passing him for good with five to go and going on to his long-awaited first-career Nationals triumph.
The Louisiana native was tied to Clauson through a longtime friendship and his 2015 drive in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, when he piloted a midget owned by Clauson in the prestigious event.
Johnson screamed, “We parked it for BC!” over the track’s public address system before talking about how special the win was for him in light of the week’s events.
“All in all (this win) is a testament to friendship, to what life is all about, and to B.C. He taught me a lot about this sport, and gave me a chance at the Chili Bowl that I’ll never forget. This one’s absolutely for him. I couldn’t be happier or more grateful to be standing here right now.”
Saturday was arguably a perfect ending to a shadowed week.
For the drivers, it provided each of them a moment that they will never forget for the rest of their careers.
But for all the fans, friends, officials and supporters looking on at each track, it also provided reminders that the sport Bryan loved so much will not only push on, it will be forever stronger for having had him in it because of the lessons and guidance he bestowed on his friends and competitors.
And for one badass upstairs, it provided three chances to smile … and maybe even three more wins towards 200 on that tally sheet in Lonnie Wheatley’s back pocket.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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