Fitting finish for IMS dirt track opener

Image by John Mahoney

Fitting finish for IMS dirt track opener

North American Racing

Fitting finish for IMS dirt track opener


It couldn’t have been scripted any better. In the opening races to honor Bryan Clauson’s memory, his dad’s car won the very first midget heat at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s dirt track, and then BC’s hand-picked protege Zeb Wise put on a dazzling display of rim riding to capture the 20-lap Stoops pursuit race.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better night,” said Tim Clauson, whose talented son Bryan lost his life in 2016 at Belleville but helped keep four people alive with his organ donations. “Sunshine [Tyler Courtney] wins the opening race and then Zeb parks it in victory lane. It’s why we do this. What a show.”

The Drive to Save Lives BC39 will be a 39-lap main event Thursday night that pays $15,000 (big money for midgets), and features some of the top open-wheel racers in the country. It resumes Thursday with qualifying races, followed by D-C-B-A features.

But if the 39-lap feature in BC’s honor is anything like the Australian Pursuit race on Thursday night, the 5,000 paying customers will be delighted.

Wise, who at 15 years of age became USAC’s youngest-ever winner last month in Pennsylvania, was worth the price of admission and then some. Starting 18th out of 20 cars on the quarter-mile dirt track, the kid went right to the top and started picking off cars one at a time. Drivers being passed every five laps were weeded out and sent to the sidelines, and in the end it was a six-car shootout.

Alex Bright held the point with Wise on his heels and moved up to the high line to slow his challenger’s charge, but Wise dove to the bottom with one lap to go, completed the slide job, got back on the cushion and took the checkered flag and $3,200 from race sponsor and longtime USAC supporter Jeff Stoops.

“That was a lot of fun, great race with Alex,” said Wise, who lives in Angola, Ind.  “I figured I couldn’t follow everybody around the bottom or I’d lose spots. I tried the top side. I was patient with it, figured it out and came through the field. Starting 18th, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I just had to stay in the race and get there at the end.

“I stayed up top until I had to do something different because he was up there too at the end. I gave him a slider and it all worked out. I parked it for Tim and Bryan, it feels great.”

Bright came home second, followed by NASCAR veterans Ricky Stenhouse and J.J. Yeley.

Tim Clauson said he and Bryan watched Zeb run quarter midgets when he was 11. “I told Bryan that Zeb reminded me of him when he was 9,” said Clauson, who also co-owns and operates Wise’s car. “Then, when he was 13, he asked if he could help out on our sprint car team so he started working and busted his butt. He always had a broom, not a cell phone, in his hand and he kept progressing in the 600 CC midget class and Bryan said, ‘Dad that’s the guy we want in one of our cars some day. That kid is something special, keep your eye on him.’”

Dan Alexander and Dan Gerdes, two Nebraska residents who received life-saving organ donations from Clauson, will serve as grand marshals of the event and wave the green flag in tonight’s main event.