Unique format sets Driven2SaveLives BC39 for Conor Daly, Kyle Larson and more than 70 others

Driven2SaveLives BC39
USAC Racing / Steve Koletar

In its short three-year history, the Driven2SaveLives BC39 USAC Midget race has quickly become one of the marquee events on the dirt track calendar. The 2021 edition kicks off Wednesday night, August 18, and will be streamed live on FloRacing.com (subscription required). The BC39 is run in honor of three-time Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson, who lost his life in a racing accident in 2016 in Belleville, Kans.

Clauson was an organ donor, and the BC39 is sponsored by Driven2SaveLives.org to heighten awareness of organ donation.

In its inaugural edition in 2018, Brady Bacon topped 77 entries. This year’s race also features more than 70 cars competing to make an A-Main that holds a maximum of 26.

The size of the field is not the only draw. Current IndyCar and NASCAR stars including Conor Daly, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will crowd into the quarter mile dirt track built inside of Turn 3 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But first, the lineup had to be set.

Strategy came into play in lining up the heats. On Tuesday night, a draft allowed drivers pick where they wanted to start in one of eight heats that will set the lineups for Thursday. Since passing points come into play, starting deeper in the field provides some advantage, assuming one believes they can get to the front of the pack before the 10-lap heat is over.

Drawing second, Larson had one of the earliest picks and chose to roll the dice with an outside starting position on Row 4 of Heat 5. With the third pick, Elliott the inside of Row 2 in Heat 2. Daly also picked the third starting spot in Heat 3.

On Thursday, the alphabet soup of Mains begins with D. Heat winners will advance to the feature, with passing points setting the remainder of the positions.

With the draft, top names are spread throughout the night. Elliott rolls off in Heat 2, Tyler Courtney and Chase Briscoe in Heat 3, Bacon and JJ Yeley in Heat 4, Larson in Heat 5, Daly and Ryan Newman in Heat 7, and Spencer Bayston in Heat 8.

It took a while for Heat 5 to fill out after drivers noted Larson was in that event.

In addition to the Wednesday night heats, the track will host the Stoops Pursuit race – a 25-lapper split into five-lap segments with 24 starters including the heat winners. The starting lineup will be inverted by fastest heat race time. It is important to move forward; every five laps, USAC will throw a competition flag, and cars with a net loss in position will be forced to exit the race.

All of that is a prelude to Thursday’s feature.

The 12-lap D-Mains will include cars that ranked 45th through 76th in passing points. The 15-lap C-Main will consist of cars ranked 31-44, plus the top three D-Main finishers. The B-Main will be 20 laps and include drivers ranked 17-30, plus six drivers who advance from the C.

The top six finishers in the B will join the A.

The 39-lap, A-Main feature will have 22 starters, plus two USAC provisionals (if needed) and two track options.


HEAT 1: Kevin Woody Jr., Cole Bodine, Blake Brannon, Bryant Wiedeman, Jerry Coons Jr., Hayden Reinbold, Karter Sarff and Kevin Thomas Jr.

HEAT 2: Chase Randall, Justin Dickerson, Chase Elliott, Carson Garrett, Tommy Kouns, Jacob Denney, Hayden Williams, Buddy Kofoid and Chris Windom.

HEAT 3: Zac Taylor, Tyler Courtney, Ben Varner, Kaylee Bryson, Jeff Schindler, Chance Crum, Chase Briscoe, Emerson Axsom and Jason McDougal.

HEAT 4: Robert Bell, Aiden Purdue, Kameron Gladish, Maria Cofer, Randi Pankratz, Ethan Mitchell, Brady Bacon, Logan Seavey, and JJ Yeley.

HEAT 5: Taylor Reimer, Austin Barnhill, Russ Gamester, Brenham Crouch, Tanner Thorson, Justin Grant, Trevor Casey, Kyle Larson and Rylan Gray.

HEAT 6: Carson Kvapil, Tanner Berryhill, Shane Cottle, Ryan Timms, Billy Lawless, Daison Pursley, Jeff Wimmenauer, Ronnie Gardner and Tyler Edwards.

HEAT 7: Ryan Newman, Corey Day, Conor Daly, Gary Taylor, Bryan Stanfill, John Heydenreich, Aaron Leffel, Thomas Meseraull, and Daniel Robinson.

HEAT 8: Sam Johnson, Jonathan Shafer, Kyle Cummins, Cannon McIntosh, Glenn Waterland, Zeb Wise, Riley Kreisel, Spencer Bayston and Ian Creager.

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”