A 2012 file photo of Bryan Clauson looking happy and relieved after qualifying for his first Indianapolis 500 one day after crashing on May 20, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Robin Nunn/UPI | License Photo
Race driver Bryan Clauson died Sunday night from injuries suffered in a midget car crash in Kansas. He was 27.
Clauson, who had competed in three Indianapolis 500 races including the 100th running where he finished 23rd in May, was in a wreck at Saturday night's Belleville Midget Nationals on a half-mile dirt-track oval. Clauson was airlifted to Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb., but did not survive.
"Last night, the 7th of August, we said goodbye to our son, my fiance, our friend, Bryan Clauson," Clauson's family said in a statement released by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "He was surrounded by family and friends and we were grateful that we could experience his final moments with him.
"Our Bryan fought to the end with the same desire that he demonstrated behind the wheel of all the various race cars he would park in victory lane. However, we were more proud of our Bryan that took a moment to make a young fan's day, or demonstrated his uncommon kindness and appreciation toward his friends, family and fans."
Clauson was leading the midget race when his car climbed the guard rail between Turns 3 and 4, flipped and stopped on the dirt track, before being struck by a car driven by Ryan Greth.
"This is certainly a sad day for the racing community as a whole, and on behalf of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we send our deepest condolences to the family of Bryan Clauson," said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Anybody who witnessed Bryan behind the wheel of a race car can attest to his elite ability, relentlessness and unbridled willingness to race anything on wheels. While he'll be remembered most as a legend of short-track racing, his participation in the Indianapolis 500 exemplifies his fearlessness, true versatility as a competitor and the pure depth of his talent as a driver."
Clauson, a resident of Noblesville, Ind., and a Northern California native, was considered the nation's top short-track dirt-car driver with four U.S. Auto Club national championships -- two in sprint cars and two in midgets -- as well as wins in prestigious events the likes of the Chili Bowl, Turkey Night Grand Prix and Belleville Nationals.
"This is truly one of the darkest days in the 60-year history of the United States Auto Club," USAC CEO Kevin Miller said. "Not only have we lost one of our greatest USAC champions, we've lost a true ambassador for all of motor sports.
"Bryan's passion for our sport was unparalleled. He was a leader not only on the track, but in the pits with his fellow competitors."
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart owned cars driven by Clauson over the years.
"It's a tragedy," Stewart told reporters Sunday after the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. "That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job. ... I don't care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it."
Clauson competed in 26 NASCAR Xfinity Series races from 2007 to 2008 for team owner Chip Ganassi.
"NASCAR extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Bryan Clauson, a passionate competitor whose love for racing fueled his unmatched positive spirit," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Connell said. "He was a dear friend to many in the racing community, and he was loved and respected by all who knew him. He touched the lives of so many in our motorsports family, and his warm presence and relentless enthusiasm will be missed."