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


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

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”