Jim Ayello Indianapolis Star
Published 6:12 PM EDT Sep 6, 2018
Tim Clauson believes in God. He also believes that on Wednesday night, God was listening to his son.
Bryan Clauson, the legendary short-tracker whose tragic death two years ago cast a dark cloud over the motor sports world, dreamed of bringing a USAC-sanctioned dirt-track race to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While he didn’t live to see his dream realized Wednesday with the inaugural Driven 2 Save Lives BC39 — named in his honor — Tim Clauson has no doubt his son was there watching, ensuring the whole night of spectacular racing went off exactly as he wanted it to.
The signs were everywhere. The rain that seemed to fall all around but never on The Racing Capital of the World. The double rainbow smiling down on the track. His last hand-picked driver (15-year-old Zeb Wise) parking the BC39 car in victory lane in front of jam-packed crowd going berserk as he won. It was all enough to make one wonder about a higher power at work.
Except Tim Clauson doesn’t wonder. He knows.
“At some point you have to admit it,” he said after a thrilling and emotional night of racing Wednesday. “There are signs everywhere. I felt him here tonight. I truly did. … The rain holding off and double rainbow was absolutely incredible. To know in my heart he was here with us tonight was pretty cool.”
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But long before the double rainbow (more on that later), long before Wise’s victory in the Stoops Pursuit rocked the house, Tim Clauson said, he knew Bryan had every intention of being present Wednesday night. Every intention of making sure the long-awaited, highly anticipated BC39 was the smashing success his friends at USAC and IMS worked so hard for it to be.
Tim Clauson learned all of that Wednesday morning at a FedEx store. There was this woman, Clauson starts …
Tim Clauson, co-owner of Clauson-Marshall Racing, wasn’t one to put a lot of stock in “seeing signs.” Mostly, he chalked up strange phenomena to coincidence. He called it the “red truck syndrome.”
“It’s kind of like buying your first red truck,” Clauson explains. “Before you do, you look around, and no one is driving a red truck. Then you go buy yours and all of a sudden, every stoplight you’re at, there they are. Three red trucks.”
Sitting in his race shop in Fishers, Ind., Clauson chuckles. It’s strange how tragedy can make you see things in a different light. He now sees Bryan everywhere. He doesn’t know if he’s just permanently stricken with “red truck syndrome” or if son really is all around him, but it’s comforting to think it’s the latter.
That he sees Bryan nearly every day can partially be explained by the fact that he remains immersed 24/7 in a world with Bryan’s fingerprints all over it. Bryan Clauson was once one of motor sports’ greatest drivers, ambassadors and icons. At his peak, he sat atop the mountain of short-track racing, winning a pair of USAC national sprint car championships, two USAC national midget car championships, along with the Chili Bowl in 2014, which was one of more than 170 feature wins he collected during his career. He also competed in three Indianapolis 500s and drove briefly in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.
His reach was vast. He influenced and inspired hundreds or more across the motorsports landscape. So it’s not exactly a surprise, Tim Clauson admits, that a race team owner sees his son so often. But it’s become more than just running into people at short-track races who knew Bryan or seeing fans wearing Bryan Clauson T-Shirts and hats — though both happen all of the time.
It’s how certain races actually played out, Tim Clauson says.
First it was Justin Marks and Kyle Larson, both longtime friends of Bryan Clauson, winning the first NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series races after his death. Marks drove the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 car, the one Clauson used to drive, into victory lane at Mid-Ohio in 2016. A week later, Larson, wearing a helmet with a paint scheme honoring Clauson, won his first Cup race and dedicated the victory to Bryan and his family.
“This one’s for the Clauson family,’ an emotional Larson said. “We’re really missing Bryan. We love you guys. We parked it for him, so that was really cool.”
More recently, Tim Clauson sees his son’s hand at work in the development of Zeb Wise, the last driver Bryan ever hand-picked to join his race team. Wise was 11 when Bryan first laid eyes on him but already an immense talent. When he joined CMR at 14, many expected Wise to rattling off race wins immediately.
“Well, I know that wouldn’t have made Bryan very happy,” Tim says with a smile.
Bryan believed young drivers need to lose, and lose often, to fuel their hunger for success. Winning too much too young can ruin a kid’s determination.
“Bryan would have said if a kid won a race at 14, he would not do everything it takes to learn what it takes to win every single night in a race car,” Tim Clauson explains. “It would do him more harm than good.”
The talented Wise went winless during his age 14 season and for much of his age 15 season. To this day, Tim Clauson can’t explain how that happened. There were at least three or four races that Wise should have won, he said, only for something strange to crop up at the end to keep from him victory lane.
Then, about a month ago, it all came together for Wise, as he became the youngest race winner in USAC history at 15 years, 8 months and 21 days. The driver who previously held the record? Clauson, of course (16 years, 3 months and 21 days).
“It was almost a perfect race,” Tim recalled of Wise’s first career USAC midget car victory. “It was as if Bryan felt like it was time. Like he said, OK, ‘Now you’ve earned it.’”
On Wednesday, Tim Clauson could hardly contain his excitement as he watched Wise emerge victorious once again. Standing atop the Clauson-Marshall Racing trailer, he pumped his fist, high-fived his team and screamed for joy as Wise took the checkered flag.
So much about Wise reminds Tim of his son. His racing savvy, his ambition, his simple ability to find room on a race track where others can’t. It’s all reminiscent of the late, great Bryan Clauson. How fitting then for Wise to show the world, at race named in Bryan’s honor, why the legend hand-picked him those four years ago.
Tim Clauson couldn’t believe his luck. It’s Wednesday, the first day of the BC39 and he’s got a million things to get to. He doesn’t have time to go pick up the rear ends that were supposed to be delivered to his race shop.
But Tuesday came and went with no rear-ends. Frustrated, Clauson hopped in his car Wednesday morning and headed to his local FedEx store.
“I’m driving, and the whole way, I’m going, ‘God. Today of all days,” Clauson recalls, half-chuckling. “Then the weirdest thing happened.”
Clauson pulled up to the guard shack, and a woman came out and asked him for his company name.
“Clauson-Marshall Racing,” he replied.
Any relation to Bryan Clauson? She asked.
“Yeah,” Clauson told her before the girl did the strangest thing.
“She goes, ‘Hi!’ In a voice different than her own. Clauson didn’t know how to react.
“Hi?” He replied, questioning what exactly was going on.
“No, no. That’s way Bryan used to greet me every morning when we went to school together. I went to Noblesville High School with him.”
Recalling that story with a grin on his face, Tim Clauson says that’s when he knew for sure Bryan would be with them Wednesday night at the BC39.
And that’s why it came as no surprise to him see that double rainbow in the evening sky. However, it was a nice surprise for Levi Jones, not only a USAC legend himself but the club’s midget racing director and one of the people chiefly responsible for organizing the BC39, to know Bryan was watching over them.
“I don’t know if anyone knows this, but that double rainbow,” Jones said before pausing. “Right after we lost Bryan, we went to (Badlands Motor Speedway) for the biggest sprint car race of the year. It should have rained there, and it blew past, and there was a double rainbow that looked identical to the one here (Wedesday night).
“It’s kind of crazy. You can’t make that stuff up.”
Follow IndyStar Motor Sports Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter and Facebook: @jimayello.
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