Craig Murto: Clausen death reminds us of dangers

With all the advancement in driver and track safety, it’s sometimes easy to forget that motorsports are dangerous.

But the death of 27-year-old Bryan Clauson over the weekend forced us to face the fact that the sport that gives so many people such great pleasure often exacts a tremendous toll.

Clauson crashed Saturday in a United States Auto Club Midget car race in Belleville, Kansas. He had just grabbed the lead in the feature when a slower car pushed him toward the Turn 4 wall on the high banks. Clauson hit the wall, his car flipped across the track, and came to rest in front of an oncoming car that couldn’t avoid striking him.

Reports from the scene stated that it took emergency crews almost a half hour to extricate the California native, who had been making his home in Indiana. He was air lifted to a hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, and died Sunday night.

The open-wheel specialist made 26 starts in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, most in 2008, and most for car owner Chip Ganassi. Clauson scored one pole position at Daytona in his career, and had a Top 5 finish at Kentucky.

“NASCAR extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Bryan Clauson, a passionate competitor whose love for racing fueled his unmatched positive spirit,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said in a statement. “He was a dear friend to many in the racing community, and he was loved and respected by all who knew him. He touched the lives of so many in our motorsports family, and his warm presence and relentless enthusiasm will be missed.”

Tony Stewart was a longtime friend of Clauson’s. The three-time Sprint Cup champion once owned the Sprint Cars in which Clauson won a lot of races.

“It sucks when it’s anybody in racing,” Stewart told “Apple-style-span”>National Speed Sport News. “It’s hard when you lose them, but it’s even worse when they’re somebody as close to you as Bryan was.”

Clausen had an Automobile Racing Club of America victory at Gateway Motorsports Park in 2007, and probably should have been given more of a chance in the heavier stock cars. But it was in open-wheel competition that he thrived. He arrived onto the national scene as a teen, making his first USAC start two days after his 16th birthday. After USAC success and his brief stint in stock cars, he returned to open-wheel racing full time in 2009.

He made numerous Indy Lights starts and three starts in the Indianapolis 500 in his career, including a 23rd-place finish this past May. In 2016 he scored wins in USAC Midget and Sprint Car features, All Star Circuit of Champions features and American Sprint Car Series events. His final win was Aug. 3 in Beloit, Kansas. Winner of the 2014 Chili Bowl Nationals, Clauson hoped to run 200 open-wheel races in 2016. He died in his 116th start of the season.

“Short-track racing has always been the heart and soul of auto racing in America,” stated Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles in a release. “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 racecar that made him a person that fellow competitors and fans alike enjoyed being around,” continued Boles. “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.”

In the movie “Grand Prix,” the character played by James Garner explains to a car owner that he races because doing something that brings him so close to the possibility of death allows him to feel life more intensely. Racing has come a long way as far as safety goes, but it will always be dangerous.

We hate losing people. We hate losing people in racing, especially so young. Bryan Clauson crammed more life in his 27 years than most people ever get to experience. He understood and accepted the dangers.

Donations in memory of Clauson can be made through the USAC Benevolent Foundation at USACBF.org.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.