Knoxville Nationals sees outpouring of support for Bryan Clauson

Merchandise trailer for dirt racer who died last week sold out Saturday after 3 restocks of apparel; fellow racers impressed and not surprised

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KNOXVILLE — The racing world’s genuine outpouring of support and remembrance of dirt racer Bryan Clauson in the last week has been nothing short of vast.

That’s been especially true at Knoxville Raceway this week, as the 56th Knoxville Nationals has the small southern Iowa town for another year. The Sprint Car world entered again with the all-too-familiar feeling of loss after Clauson died from injuries sustained in a Midget race in Belleville, Kan.

But as happens every time the racing world mourns a loss, the community came together. By Saturday, the Bryan Clauson merchandise trailer had been completely sold out — after three reorders and restocks from Wednesday on — and had seen lines leading out of the merchandise lot. His car paced the field before what would have been his qualifying night on Thursday, driven by close friend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and the number of drivers sporting “BC” hats was too high to count.

His closest friends and competitors still came to race in the biggest Sprint Car race in the world, and what they saw in support for Clauson blew them away.

“It’s been really awesome to see how everyone’s supported the Clauson family,” said NASCAR driver and Knoxville Nationals entrant Kyle Larson. “It hits hard, but to see everybody come together and try to raise money for them and show their support was really special to see.

“(The long line at his trailer) was like that every day. I know they’ve done a good job with that. They’ve had a lot of friends and stuff help selling them. It’s been really cool seeing Bryan Clauson gear all week.”

Clauson had the respect of anyone who knew him in racing, and millions who didn’t. He was an accomplished dirt racer, competing in every form of open-wheel dirt racing there is to offer.

A winner of the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals, Clauson also started the Indianapolis 500 twice, and was attempting to race 200 times this season. The race in which he sustained his fatal injuries was his 116th of the season.

Despite his death, fans and friends on Twitter wanted to make sure Clauson would get to 200, and started a campaign to use the hashtag “#parkedit” — which was a catchphrase Clauson coined to denote his pulling into Victory Lane — any time they were at a race and tweeting about the winner.

Buying merchandise, donating to memorial funds and Twitter campaigns were just a few small ways the racing community came together for Clauson’s family, and while it impressed those who raced with Clauson, it certainly didn’t shock them.

“It means a lot, but I wasn’t surprised. As soon as I heard the merchandise trailer was going to be open, I knew they weren’t going to have enough. I’ve been one of many that’s displayed that hat proudly,” said driver Shane Stewart, who races for Larson at Larson-Marks Racing. “When we have one of our soldiers get hurt or taken away, we all seem to get together as one group and go to that particular family and tell them how we feel. The money that’s been raised for Bryan and his family this week has been remarkable. It’s just good to see.

“People tend to go back to their normal lives, but it’s never normal again for (his family). That’s why we still need to keep them in our thoughts. The Sprint Car community is full of a lot of special people who will do that.”

SBefore aturday’s Knoxville Nationals finals got started, Larson — who had to come from the B-main — and Stewart addressed racing in the wake of a loss like Clauson’s.

For Larson, who became very good friends with Clauson over the years and raced a lot with him, it was obviously hard not to have Clauson at the track, but getting in the car wasn’t.

“It’s not too hard to get in the zone when you need to be,” Larson said. “We’ve all done this a while. Since talking to (Clauson’s fiancé) Lauren (Stewart) and his family and seeing how they’re doing with it, it lets guys like myself accept it more and go out there and have fun and race.”

When accomplished dirt racer and former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler died in a Sprint Car in 2013, Clauson did a radio interview and was asked how drivers get back in the car so quickly after one of their friends and competitors died in the same kind of car in which they’re about to climb. Clauson’s message then boiled down to one response: “we’re wired different.”

Larson and Stewart echoed that, and Stewart pointed out that Clauson got right back in the car then, just like they are now.

As much as the hats, T-shirts and stickers honor Clauson, his competitors climbing back in the car was the best way they knew how to honor him.

“We live in a dangerous world and compete in a dangerous sport. Anything can happen, unfortunately,” Stewart said. “But the people who have passed away (like Leffler and Clauson) are racers — they’re true racers. They wouldn’t want us to look at it any different. If it was one of us, they’d do the same; they’d get back in the car and race. We all know these Sprint Cars can hurt us, but we don’t think about it. When one of our colleagues gets hurt or killed, we keep it in the back of our minds, but we still have a job to do.

“I know he’s making laps upstairs, and when we all get up there, we’ll be racing together again.”

Fans seeking Clauson merchandise who couldn’t get it at the racetrack can go to www.BryanClauson.com.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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