INDYCAR: USAC Champ Clauson Poised For Indy 500 Debut
"I talked to Bryan about the possibility of using the scholarship money for Indy and they made it clear that was their first choice,’’ said INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard.
Robin Miller | Posted December 09, 2011 RELATED
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Bryan Clauson will get his first chance to qualify for the Indy 500 next May. (IndyCar Series)
When INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard saw his first USAC sprint show at Kokomo Speedway in 2010, he was impressed with the horsepower (850), the skill of the drivers on the quarter mile dirt track and the passionate fans that packed the grandstands.
On the drive back home, he wondered why none of those American open-wheel racers competed in the Indianapolis 500.
It was explained that USAC used to be the path to Indy but not for over 30 years because the dirt cars were removed from the championship schedule and road racing replaced DuQuoin, Springfield, Sacramento and the Hoosier Hundred.
Bernard vowed to try and re-open the door from USAC to Indy some day and it appears he’s done it.
During USAC’s annual awards dinner Friday night, Benard announced that this season’s Road to Indy Scholarship money would go towards getting an Indy 500 ride for Bryan Clauson.
Clauson, the overall USAC champion for the second straight year, will have $300,000 to help secure a car for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.
"I grew up going to the Speedway and always dreaming of being one of those 33 starters and this is a big step towards making it happen,” said the 22-year-old Noblesville native who won the USAC midget title and finished eighth in both the sprint and Silver Crown standings.
"If you ask all the guys who race in USAC if they want to be an INDYCAR driver, about 60 percent say yes. If you ask them about running the Indy 500, it’s 100 percent – that’s what we all aspire to do.’’
Bernard, who was presented with the Roger McCluskey Award by USAC for his contributions to grass roots racing, had considered putting Clauson back in Lights for the road courses in 2012.
"I talked to Bryan and Tim (his father) about the possibility of using the scholarship money for Indy and they made it clear that was their first choice,’’ said Bernard.
"And we did a fan poll on the INDYCAR website and asked people where they would like to see Bryan next year and it was overwhelming to take him to the Indy 500.”
Last year’s prize earned Clauson a six-race run on ovals in the Firestone Indy Lights series, where he had one podium and a couple of fourth place finishes.
He understands he’ll need to raise more money to get a competitive seat but thinks things are looking good.
"I’ve got some people interested in helping me and maybe we can parlay it into 3-4 races total so this is a great foundation and a great day for me,’’ said the two-time midget champion who scored nine total wins (three in sprints) to edge Kyle Larson by 34 points in the overall title.
JONES IN ELITE COMPANY
Levi Jones pulled even with Mel Kenyon and Rich Vogler this season and is taking aim at A.J. Foyt.
Jones earned his third consecutive Amsoil sprint title for Tony Stewart Racing and won the Traxxas Silver Crown hardware to give the 29-year-old veteran his sixth and seventh USAC championships.
That tied him with Kenyon and Vogler and put him only two behind Foyt.
"It’s pretty amazing considering in 2004 I had no ride and had never won a race,’’ said Jones. "But I got a couple good breaks and then Tony hired me and things took off.
"It means a lot to hear my name with Kenyon, Vogler and A.J. and I love what I do. USAC still has the best racing anywhere and beating some of these kids today is a challenge, believe me.’’
One of those precocious teenagers, Larson, was honored as midget and Silver Crown rookie of the year – based on his sweep of the 4-Crown Nationals, victories at Belleville, DuQuoin and Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Robin Miller brings 40 years of experience to his role as SPEED.com's senior open-wheel reporter, and serves as a frequent contributor to SPEED Center and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.
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