Carmichael native Bryan Clauson, considered the top dirt-track driver in the country, died Sunday from injuries suffered in a crash in Kansas. He was 27.
His death was announced Monday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A statement from his family said Clauson “fought to the end.”
“This is truly one of the darkest days in the (60-year) history of the United States Auto Club,” USAC president and CEO Kevin Miller said in a news release. “Not only have we lost one of our greatest USAC champions, we’ve lost a true ambassador for all motorsports. Bryan’s passion for our sport was unparalleled.”
Clauson was leading Saturday’s Belleville (Kansas) Midget Nationals USAC midget race – which Miller called “one of the most prestigious races on our challenging schedule” – when he crashed passing lapped traffic, according to the Associated Press. His car rolled and was hit by another competitor. He was airlifted to a hospital in Nebraska, and died surrounded by his family.
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Clauson was born in Carmichael and lived in Antelope until his father, Tim, moved the family to Indiana when Bryan was in the fifth grade. Tim Clauson was an accomplished race car driver and made the move to pursue his own racing career.
Bryan Clauson was on pace to compete in 200 races this year. He had 27 victories in 116 starts, and led three laps in the Indianapolis 500 in May, just hours before winning a sprint car race in nearby Kokomo in what he called an “Indiana Double.”
In a 2011 interview, Clauson told The Bee he enjoyed switching from dirt in one race to asphalt in another. Winged sprinters or not, if it’s open-wheel racing on a tight track, Clauson said he wanted to be there mixing it up with the best.
“Both types of racing are so fun, “ Clauson said. “It’s totally different styles, though. On the dirt, it’s more seat-of-your-pants, and you just go for it. On asphalt, it’s a little more strategic. But I love them both.”
His family and friends posted a message to fans on Clauson’s Facebook page:
He was a development driver for Chip Ganassi in NASCAR, where he competed in 26 races over the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He also spent several seasons driving for Tony Stewart’s sprint car team. Stewart said after the NASCAR race on Sunday he hoped to see Clauson’s parents and fiancee, Lauren, soon.
“That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job and never went anywhere,” Stewart said. “I don’t care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it. Him and Lauren being engaged, kid had such a bright future.”
Clauson became just the sixth driver – and the youngest one – to win 100 USAC feature races when he captured the “Winter Challenge” at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz., in January.
On Wednesday, Bryan had his 112th USAC victory at a National Midget event at Solomon Valley Raceway in Beloit, Kan.. His 112 wins trail only USAC Hall of Famers Rich Vogler, A.J. Foyt, Sleepy Tripp and Mel Kenyon.
The four-time USAC national champion was as aiming to become the winningest driver in series history. He was a three-time winner and the defending champion at Belleville.
“He was a leader not only on the track, but in the pits with his fellow competitors,” Miller said.
Clauson had another wreck during the weekend.
After that crash Friday night, he posted on Twitter his appreciation for his safety equipment, his chassis manufacturer and his team for getting his car ready for him to race Saturday night.