(Editor’s note: This article was written for The Polk Street Review, Noblesville’s only literary review, after interviewing Noblesville, Indiana racer Bryan Clauson at Kokomo Speedway this summer. The editor is stoked since someone actually printed a piece of his writing in a real publication. This piece was part of a series on influential/interesting citizens, both past and present and was written assuming the readers were not necessarily racing fans. If you are interested in supporting The Polk Street Review, click here to check out the website and to order your copy. Whether it’s grassroots racing or grassroots writing, your support is invaluable.)
Bryan Clauson could be the guy that Hoosier musician John Mellencamp was singing about in his hit song “Small Town.” Clauson, the 23 year-old championship auto racer from Noblesville, is fully grounded with his sense of place. “Noblesville has grown into a big town, but it still has that small town feel. That sense of community is part of what keeps me planted in Noblesville. It would be hard to ever uproot me.”
Bryan has been a USAC (United States Auto Club) champion in both the midget and sprint car series, driven in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and piloted an Indy car in the 2012 Indianapolis 500. The nomadic life of a racer parallels life in a tight-knit community. “(Racing is) something I grew up with, something I love. It’s definitely one of the places I’m at home. Everybody’s here to beat each other, but it’s one big family.” Competing over 100 times a year in the high stress environment of auto racing creates a bond. Bryan understands that the racing community is like any other family. “We’re like siblings. We can pick on each other, but if someone else does it, it’s not OK.” That’s just the kind of relationship you might see in any home in Noblesville.
It’s that sense of community, in both Noblesville and racing, that helps Bryan handle the traveling that is inherent in big time auto racing. “There’s times you go a month, two months, without seeing your bed.” While Bryan and his racing team often stay in motels, they also stay with friends and family throughout the country, using both their homes and garages. He knows how lucky he is. “I travel the country doing what I love. It’s hard to beat that.” In many ways, Bryan is doing what so many people long to do: he is following his dream.
Bryan began racing quarter midgets in California before moving to Noblesville. His new central Indiana home landed him in the middle of one of the hotbeds of auto racing. As he progressed through the ranks of USAC sprint and midget racing, he caught the eye of Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR. His short career in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, which most would consider successful, was cut short by the money woes that plague auto racing at all levels. He returned to his roots on the short dirt ovals of the Midwest and California and returned to his championship ways. In 2010, Bryan won the USAC National Driver Championship, earning a scholarship from IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard to compete in the 2011 Indy Lights Series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He parlayed that opportunity into a ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Even though Bryan was fast in practice for the 500, a hard crash in qualifying ended his chance of a good starting position. A spin early in the race left him with handling problems that led to his early exit and a 30th place finish. Bryan takes away good memories, though. “It’s the Mecca of motorsports. The experience is something I’ll hang onto forever.”
What is it like to do what Bryan does? He struggled to describe it. “You take a 1000 pound, 900 horsepower car, and you’re slinging it sideways on a turn at a little over 120 miles-per-hour around a quarter-mile dirt track in a little over 13 seconds. I don’t think there’s a feeling like it. You drive it by the seat of your pants. It’s basically a rocket ship you’re trying to sling around a quarter-mile dirt track.” It doesn’t quite sound like a trip to town in the family sedan.
When asked about his favorite track while waiting to race at Kokomo Speedway, Bryan smiled and looked around him. “My favorite Indiana track? We’re standing in it. Kokomo Speedway. It’s as good as it gets right here. It’s the baddest bullring in the country.” Whether it is the summer racing throughout the United States or his winter racing tour of New Zealand, Bryan’s roots always seem to bring him back to his home tracks in central Indiana and his hometown of Noblesville. And that is quite all right with him.
Even with all his time away, Bryan always knows where home is. “Noblesville is home, the place that I love, the place that I’ll probably always call home.” No matter how fast or how far Bryan Clauson drives, he will always know the road back home to Noblesville.