When a bad economy and a lost sponsor brought Bryan Clauson’s NASCAR career to a halt, he could have given up and settled for something less. However, Bryan is a racer; and he already has passed on a lot of excuses to give up. And he has raced on.
Bryan has done the nearly impossible. He has put together a schedule of races that would finance itself and garner his third consecutive USAC National Driving Championship.
To close out the USAC season and his title drive, Bryan went to California, where the USAC National Sprint Series would wind up with the 17th annual Budweiser Oval Nationals at Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway. The program paid points in both the USAC National Series and the USAC/CRA Series. This set the stage for a large field of cars that could confuse the battle for the USAC National Sprint Car Championship.
When Bryan arrived at Perris he held a thin seven-point lead over Dave Darland, a veteran driver who, like Clauson, has made his living racing from the start. While he’ll generally run you clean, he isn’t exactly the easiest guy to outrun.
In the series opener Friday night, California’s Mike Spencer set quick time in the famous red No. 50 formerly piloted by the Richard “The Gasman” Griffin. Darland was second, followed by Nic Faas, Richard VanderWeerd, Clauson and Thomas Meseraull. Since all six of the fastest qualifiers finished in the top four in their heat races,
Clauson would start on the outside of the first row.
When the green flag waved, Clauson charged into the lead with Faas in tow. Darland, on the other hand, started in the third row and passed VanderWeerd to take third place. By the time the first yellow flag waved, veteran sprint-car pilot Jon Stanbrough brought the Danny Roberts’ owned sprinter up to challenge the frontrunners.
West Coast racer Ryan Bernal got on his lid and brought out a red flag. On the restart, Clauson charged ahead to maintain his lead. However, there was a battle behind him. Darland attempted to use a patented slide job to wrestle the lead away from Clauson. However, Clauson avoided the Darland threat and actually distanced himself from his pursuer.
In the meantime, Stanbrough had found the low groove and used it to slip past Darland into second place. Darland held on to finish third followed by Tracy Hines, Faas, Thomas Meseraull, Mike Spencer, Chris Windom, Rickie Gaunt, and Chase Stockon of Elizabethtown.
From Victory Lane Bryan commented, “I knew that I had to get a good run off of Turn 4 and get my momentum up on those restarts. I swear we won that thing twice before we actually got it; but they gave me a great car to finish it off.
“Coming into tonight it was me and Dave; and he’s a guy I’ve looked up to all my life. I knew it wouldn’t be easy tonight; and it surely won’t be tomorrow night either. We’ve got a battle on our hands; but tonight was a big step.”
Bryan finished the night with an eight-point lead over Darland for the USAC Sprint Car championship and a 77-point lead over Stanbrough. He also made a small gains in his battle for a third USAC National Driving Championship.
The finale of the Oval Track Nationals closed out the USAC National Sprint Car season. Spencer and Hines started side by side on the front row. Hines charged into the lead at the drop of the green flag, and they ran 1-2 for most of the race.
Hines managed to hold the lead for the first 37 circuits. On Lap 38, Spencer passed Hines to take the lead that he would hold until the checkered flag waved.
However, as the leaders took the white flag, it was clear that Clauson’s right rear tire was losing air. A green-white-checkered restart would almost certainly have sidelined him. However, Clauson managed to complete the race and salvage a sixth-place finish behind Spencer, Hines, Stanbrough, Damion Gardner and Darland. Rickie Gaunt, Robert Ballou, Chase Stockon and Ronnie Gardner rounded out the top 10.
After taking the win, Spencer commented, “This is huge for all of us from California. We’ve been getting beaten by the National guys for the last few years. It’s good the local guy won here tonight and brought it back to the West Coast. I’m proud of that. We’ve been trying a long time, and we’ve been close.
“And, I need to thank everybody who has helped us get here. I can’t thank my car owner, Ron Chaffin, and my crew chief, Bruce Bromme, enough, along with all of our crew. This is our goal every year, and it’s sweet to finally get it.”
Clauson lost ground in the USAC National Sprint Car points battle. However, he edged Darland by five points and sealed the championship.
There are three more midget races to be run, which will decide the USAC National Driving Championship. However, he will likely be driving one of midgets from the Keith Kunz Motorsports midgets. And he will almost certainly run well enough to win his third championship.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.