The Byrd family had effectively been out of the racing game for nearly a decade, but the unique talents of Bryan Clauson lured them back in.
Clauson, best known for his exploits in short-track racing, had become one of the most respected race drivers in the world when he died Sunday at the age of 27 from injuries sustained in a horrific crash Saturday night at Belleville High Banks in Kansas.
David Byrd, part of the Greenwood-based Jonathan Byrd’s Racing ownership group, said that the chance to work with Clauson was a big reason why he and his family got back into the sport.
“We believed he was the most talented racecar driver in the world without a doubt,” he said.
Story continues below gallery
That talent was on display frequently, too. Clauson began 2016 with the goal of competing in 200 races — a quest that had been dubbed “The Chasing 200 Tour: Circular Insanity” — and he was on track to do so. Saturday’s race at Belleville was his 116th of the year.
Clauson, who had just taken the lead in his final race moments before the fatal crash, had posted his career-best 27th win of the season on Wednesday at the same track.
David Byrd, as well as his brother Jonathan II and their mother Virginia, all said that Clauson had become a part of their family over the past couple of years, and that the team and the driver had designs on a long and fruitful relationship.
“We were going to all work together to realize our mutual dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500 as well as so many other races and championships,” David said, “and (Clauson) eventually cementing his place among the legends of motorsport.”
Clauson had already earned legendary status as a short-track driver, winning three USAC National Drivers championships, three USAC National Midget Series championships and two USAC National Sprint Car Series championships.
The Noblesville native had made three Indianapolis 500 starts — including the last two for the Byrds, who were planning on many more.
“We’re just numb. We still are just numb,” Virginia Byrd said. “We didn’t just lose a racer. We lost a friend, someone that we thought so highly of. And we were all planning on being together, racing together, for years to come.”
“It was an honor to have Bryan race for us,” Jonathan Byrd II added. “You can tell a lot of people around the world loved Bryan, and it’s going to leave a huge hole in the racing world.”
The void will be felt at Jonathan Byrd’s Racing. The team has decided to park all of Clauson’s short-track cars for at least the rest of this year, and while David Byrd says his family will continue to sponsor Conor Daly’s IndyCar efforts, the future for their own team is now very much in doubt.
“He was a singularly unique talent and racecar driver in the world today,” David Byrd said, “and it’s going to be difficult going forward, because there’s no more Bryan Clausons out there.”