INDIANAPOLIS – At one time the Indianapolis 500 was the pinnacle form of racing that race drivers in the United States Auto Club (USAC) aspired to achieve. Over the last three decades, however, the sport moved away from the American grassroots form of racing such as USAC Midgets, Sprints and Silver Crown to road racers from Europe and South America.
Bryan Clauson hopes to bring USAC back to the Indy 500, beginning next season, when the three-time USAC National Driver’s Champion was announced as the driver for Jonathan Byrd’s Racing in 2015.
The 24-year-old Clauson is two-time USAC National Sprint Car champion, two-time USAC National Midget Champion, two-time National Midget Driver of the Year and 2012 Indy 500 starter for Sarah Fisher Racing. Although he will not compete in the 98th Indianapolis 500 on May 25 he hopes to be in the starting lineup for the 99th Indy 500 in 2014.
The driver from nearby Noblesville, Indiana is also a former ARCA and NASCAR Nationwide Series driver. Clauson was the runner-up to Landon Cassill for 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year honors driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. He scored an ARCA win in 2007 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis in 2007 and had four top-five finishes in six starts for Ganassi that season.
“What I heard the most about my Indy 500 in 2012 is we gave hope to the short track community that we could come here and be successful,” Clauson said. “I left Indy that year with mixed emotion. Short track racing is like a family. We fight amongst each other but when someone else picks on you that doesn’t fly. To have that support from my friends, my family and everybody in the short track community racing here in 2012 was a special time. It was great to see that hope and happiness.
“Hopefully, this will bring it back again for the short track community and show they can make it to the Indianapolis 500.”
The team is a revival of long-time Jonathan Byrd’s Racing that was founded in 1982 by the late Jonathan Byrd – a Greenwood, Indiana cafeteria owner that passed away in 2009. Byrd’s widow, Virginia, and her two sons, Jonathan and David, are the owners of the new team after the original Jonathan Byrd’s Racing team last competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 2005. 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier drove for them that year.
“Though we had originally intended to return for the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016, which would also have been the 20th anniversary of our track record with Arie Luyendyk, the announcement of our plans was met with such enthusiasm in so many different ways and from so many different directions, we decided that it did not make any sense to wait until 2016 and that we needed to move our program forward by a year,” Mrs. Byrd said. “The Indy 500 has been such a big part of the identity of our family and of the Jonathan Byrd’s brand. With the recent changes to our restaurant operations, along with the plans and programs that we are putting in place for the present and future of Jonathan Byrd’s, we decided that we needed to revisit that identity even sooner and go ahead and take the necessary steps a year ahead of what we had planned so we could once again tie ourselves to the biggest event in the world.
“These are exciting time for us, as we intend to grow the Jonathan Byrd’s restaurant, banquet, and catering brand here in central Indiana. Our presence here at Indy is going to be a key component of that growth, which is why we came to realize that we needed to be back in 2015. I’m really happy that we’re coming back with a popular and super talented Indiana kid like Bryan, which just makes it that much more fun.”
The Byrd family emphasized the relationship with Clauson is expected to be long-term.
“We plan on being in the Bryan Clauson business for quite a while,” David Byrd said. “When we decided that it was time for us to return to Indy, Bryan was the first, last, and only driver we even considered. We went to him a couple of months ago, told him our plans, and said ‘we want you, are you in?’ Not only does his resume speak for itself, but also everybody knows that Bryan was extremely fast right out of the box when he ran the 500 as a rookie in 2012.
“It’s an honor to have him drive for us, and I’m very happy that we’re not going to have to wait another two years to see him in action. We fully expect him to be quick again, and we’re going to give him all of the resources that he needs to run up front and compete to win. We’ll be ready to compete on the opening day of practice in 2015, as we have entered into an exciting partnership with an existing IndyCar team to create the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Indy 500 entry for BC (Clauson). We will be making a joint announcement in regards to that partnership in the very near future.”
That was further emphasized by Jonathan Byrd, II.
“Not only is Bryan going to be our Indy 500 driver next year, it’s our intention that he be our Indy 500 driver for the next 15 years,” he said. “He is a great fit for our brand, and we hope to be in the BC business for many years to come. In addition to Bryan driving the Jonathan Byrd’s IndyCar, we will also be supporting him in all of his racing efforts, and look forward to seeing him continue his winning ways and ‘parking it right down in the circle’ time and again while wearing the Jonathan Byrd’s logo. Amazingly, Bryan is scheduled to race more than 130 times in 2014, and we want to see him continue doing that for years to come.
“With his seven USAC championships and fifty-five career USAC wins at the ripe old age of twenty-four, Bryan is a throwback to Rich Vogler, which increases our level of excitement that much more. We have little doubt that he will add the title of ‘Indy 500 Champion’ to his resume.”
The man who started the Byrd Empire died five years ago and was a man of strong opinions. The Byrd family was asked what Jonathan Byrd’s response to this announcement would be?
“In some regards I think he would say, ‘What took you so long?’” Virginia Byrd said. “Then he would say to the boys, ‘C’mon kids, let’s go racing.’”
To that, Jonathan Byrd, II said, “Dad would say, ‘We’re not here just to be here; we’re here to win.’ That was my Dad’s dream and we want to fulfill his dream.”Bryan Clauson, Indy 500, IndyCar, Jonathan Byrd's Racing