Bryan Clauson, an accomplished sprint car driver who had competed in three Indianapolis 500s, died Sunday night from injuries suffered in a midget car crash on Saturday at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks. He was 27.
Clauson's family confirmed his death in a statement released Monday morning by USAC officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Last night, the 7th of August, we said goodbye to our son, my fiancé, 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 Belleville Midget Nationals when his car climbed the guard rail between turns 3 and 4, flipped and stopped on the track, where he was then hit by Ryan Greth. Clauson was transported Saturday night to Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln, Nebraska.
USAC President Kevin Miller said Clauson's death was "devastating" and left a tremendous hole in the racing community.
"This is truly one of the darkest days of the 60-year history of the United States Auto Club," Miller said. "Not only have we lost one of our greatest USAC champions, we lost a true ambassador for all of motorsports. Bryan was an accomplished driver on both dirt and pavement. … 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."
"It's a tragedy," Tony Stewart, who owned cars driven by Clauson over the years, told reporters Sunday after the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. "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."
A three-time USAC National Champion in Midgets and winner of two USAC National Sprint Car titles with more than 170 career USAC victories, Clauson drove in the Indianapolis 500 in 2012, 2015 and 2016. He led three laps in the 2016 race, where he finished a career-best 23rd driving for Dale Coyne Racing.
He competed in 26 Xfinity Series races from 2007-08 for team owner Chip Ganassi, with a career-best fifth-place finish in June 2008 at Kentucky.
Clauson was pursuing a goal of competing in 200 events during the 2016 season, ranging from midget races all the way up to the Indianapolis 500. The August portion of his "Chasing 200" tour was scheduled to take him to six states to compete in 22 races.
The Belleville Nationals race Saturday was his 117th event of the season. He was the defending champion and a three-time winner of the event, staged on a high-banked half-mile dirt track. Chad Boat won the 40-lap race, which was run to its completion following the Clauson accident on Lap 14.
The Noblesville, Ind., resident was engaged to be married in February to Lauren Stewart.
"It sucks when it's anybody in racing," Stewart said. "It's hard when you lose them, but it's even worse when they're somebody as close to you as Bryan was."