TULSA, Okla. (AP) Reminders of the late Bryan Clauson were everywhere at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
There was Justin Grant, driving the Clauson-Marshall No. 39 car to victory in the Friday night feature – the same number Clauson himself drove so often in his career.
There were the decals on the Clauson-Marshall team’s cars which read: “Driven 2 Save Lives,” a nod to the team’s Race to Save Lives campaign to increase the number of organ and tissue donors.
There’s also the list of past winners – Clauson won the Chili Bowl’s title race in 2014. He also won the Friday night feature last year, months before he died of injuries from a crash in Kansas.
Then there was Bryan’s father, Clauson-Marshall co-owner Tim Clauson, working and mingling with the people who have helped him through the toughest of times.
“This sport and the teams and the family and the fans, promoters – everybody in the sport – has just wrapped their arms around our whole family,” Tim Clauson said.
Tim Clauson, a former driver, never considered stepping away from the racing business. He said he and his son spoke about the possibility that something bad could happen, so he knew what to do.
“He said, `Look, Dad. You were a racer long before I was,”‘ Tim Clauson said. “I’m one now. This is what we do, and we’re going to race on. God forbid, something would happen to you, we’re going to race on, and God forbid, something happened to me, I would want you to race on.”‘
Grant did just that for the Clauson-Marshall team. Tim Clauson said watching Grant win on Friday night was meaningful because of his similarities to Bryan.
“Justin’s a kid that came up the way the old-time racers used to come up,” Tim Clauson said. “Bryan’s kind of a throwback racer. So to get the win with him one year later was pretty special.”
The drivers recalled Bryan Clauson’s rare driving ability. He was one of the most successful dirt-track racers of all time, with 112 United States Auto Club race victories, and he was chasing the all-time wins mark.
“He was the guy,” Rico Abreu, who won the Chili Bowl’s title race in 2015 and 2016, said. “He was the guy to beat at every race. He was the most diverse driver in the country. It’s such a sad loss for the sport of racing in general.”
Bryan Clauson drove sprint cars for Tony Stewart’s team, and they shared a mutual respect.
“He’s one of the best drivers I ever had,” Stewart said. “He never complained about anything. And even when he was upset about something, he could still tell you what he wanted to tell you and do it with a smile on his face. His personality was infectious to everybody. He just was a great kid, and somebody that got taken from us way too early.”
Bryan Clauson posthumously was named winner of the Thomas J. Schmeh Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Sport, and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame has received $1 million in pledges to eventually build a suite tower to be named for him. It’s such honors that help Tim Clauson learn more about the effect his son had on the racing community.
“I think he’d be a little embarrassed by all that,” Tim Clauson said. “I also think he’d be very proud, as we are.”