Let’s remember Bryan Clauson for what he did, not how he died

(Getty Images)

Whenever a major racing star has died in a wreck, I typically write a column about how safety – or its shortcomings thereof – played a part in yet another life being snuffed out prematurely.

But I’m not going to do the same with the tragic death of Bryan Clauson.

The California native died from injuries sustained in a horrific crash Saturday night while competing in the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas, an event he had previously won three times in the past and appeared well on his way to winning for a fourth, before what would prove to be his fatal accident.

I’ve watched the video of the crash over and over, probably at least 15 times. I’ve looked for ways to potentially cast blame or find shortcomings.

But in reality, there are none.

Clauson died in a race-related crash, pure and simple. A fellow driver did not likely see Clauson in time and broadsided Clauson’s Midget car at high speed. Nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t care how many HANS devices, state of the art helmets or the strongest, most indestructible roll cage and frame a driver or race car has, the kind of impact Clauson sustained is one that is hard to survive.

Ironically, Clauson had been involved in a bad wreck the night before, and put out what would prove to be the two final tweets of his life. Safety kept him alive on a Friday, but it wasn’t enough to keep from taking him just over 24 hours later.

Put yourself in Clauson’s shoes. What if you were driving down a street and somebody blew a red light at 100 mph and slammed into your driver’s side door? Odds are you wouldn’t be reading this – or anything else – ever again.

I’m not blaming Ryan Greth, the driver of the car that hit Clauson. The latter climbed the guard rail, flipped a couple of times and ended up in the middle of the racetrack.

With the speed and momentum he had going, Greth couldn’t avoid Clauson. That would be like if you’re driving down a highway late at night and a deer jumps into your path. There’s really not much you – or Greth – could do in instances like that.

I’m also not going to criticize USAC or other dirt racing series for not having safer cars that could withstand an impact like Clauson took, because honestly, I don’t know who could have lived through such a vicious crash as that.

That’s not to say dirt track and sprint/midget car racing are as safe as they possibly can be – but that’s an argument for another day. To me, safety had little to do with Clauson surviving or not in Saturday night’s wreck.

Given the success he had in USAC racing – including four championships and countless wins – Clauson likely had the best and safest equipment available.

And yet he still died.

We have seen a number of other sprint/midget drivers lose their lives in recent years, most notably the beloved Jason “Left Turn” Leffler in 2013.

We also saw Tony Stewart break a leg in 2013 after being involved in a sprint car wreck in Iowa.

Stewart was also involved in another sprint car incident just over a year later at a track in upstate New York, when the three-time NASCAR champion accidentally ran over and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward (the two-year anniversary of that tragedy is Tuesday). Ironically, both Stewart-related incidents happened the Saturday night of Watkins Glen weekend – as this did now.

I don’t care who you are or how good of a race car driver you are. It’s likely no one could have survived the impact Clauson sustained.

Even if it was Tony Stewart, he’d likely be gone right now. If it were other drivers who have had a long history in dirt racing – guys like Kasey Kahne, Ken Schrader, Clint Bowyer and others – they too would likely would have perished if they were in the same place and time.

Only this time, it was Clauson.

I knew how bad the crash was when it took safety workers 30 minutes to extricate Clauson from the wreckage. As a former fully sworn part-time police officer, I responded to a number of bad wrecks in my 20 years of patrolling the streets.

As much as I hate to say this, I also developed a rule of thumb over the years: if it takes more than 10-15 minutes for rescue workers working feverishly to extricate a victim from a mangled wreck and get him to a hospital, the odds of survival markedly go down with each additional passing moment the victim remains ensconced in the vehicle.

Such was the case with Clauson. He was hurt badly and rescue workers diligently and gingerly tried to not only expedite removing him from the tangled wreckage, but also to do so with the utmost care to prevent further injury.

But when you’re faced with a situation like that, there’s very little rescue workers could have done to save Clauson. The impact to his body – let alone his race car – was just too much to survive from.

No one is to blame for Clauson’s death. It was just a sad, tragic and unfortunate reality and reminder that racing has, is and always will be a dangerous sport first and foremost.

Even if his car was as bulletproof and fortified with the kind of steel used in President Obama’s limousine, I wonder if Clauson still would have been able to survive.

Bottom line, Clauson died far too young at the age of 27. Yet in those 27 years, he accomplished things that drivers 20 years older than him never have in their own careers.

Yes, it may sound like a cliché, but it’s a true statement nonetheless: Clauson loved what he did and he died doing what he loved to do.

While we’ll miss him, Clauson left us a lot of great memories of a great race car driver. Let’s not let our only lingering memory or thought about him be that he died in a race-related wreck.

Rather, let’s celebrate a life that, while cut way too short, was a life lived well. That’s more than many of us will be able to say when our own time on Earth comes to an end.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)