The Noblesville racecar driver was remembered Wednesday at Kokomo Speedway, the place he called his 'house of worship.'
(Photo: IndyStar file photo)
A grasshopper crawled out of Bryan Clauson's racing suit folded up on a table inside his motor home just days after he died.
Then, the chirping insects with the long hind legs started appearing, seemingly everywhere. Showing up unannounced, making themselves seen. Landing right on the friends and family of Clauson. Crawling on necks of Clauson fans at racetracks. People started posting the grasshopper photos on social media.
What was going on, Diana Clauson, wondered. She just couldn't understand the onslaught of green critters since her son's death earlier this month. She prayed one night to get an answer to what these grasshoppers symbolized.
"I said, 'Bryan, you need to tell me. What does that all mean?' " she said Wednesday at a service celebrating the 27-year-old Clauson's life at Kokomo Speedway.
The next morning, it came to her. She would look up the spiritual meaning of the grasshopper. When she did, it felt like Bryan was talking to her. She read that meaning to the crowd of hundreds, fighting through tears.
"When the grasshopper appears to us, we are being asked to take a leap of faith and jump forward into a specific area of life without fear. Grasshoppers can only jump forward ... not backward, or sideways," she said. "So when a grasshopper shows up, he could be reaffirming to you that you are taking the right steps to move forward in your current situation. Or it could be that he is telling you to go ahead and move forward, getting past what is hindering you."
That's what it was. Clauson was telling them, his family believes, it's OK to move on without me.
* * *
He was the scrawny kid from Noblesville with the infectious smile, who got his start as a racer on the dirt track at Kokomo Speedway at 13 years old. He became the youngest driver to reach 100 wins in USAC.
Dubbed the nation’s top short-track dirt-car driver for much of the past decade, Clauson won four USAC national championships — two in sprint cars, two in midgets. He started three times at the Indianapolis 500 and led three laps in this year’s race before finishing 23rd.
"Bryan proved a great racer is a great racer on any track," Kokomo mayor Greg Goodnight said in a proclamation Wednesday.
Clauson just never could get enough of the thrill of being great at racing. The thrill, ultimately, cost him his life.
He died Aug. 7 from injuries suffered in a USAC midget crash in Belleville, Kan., the night before. The crash happened after Clauson had taken the lead in the 39th Belleville Midget Nationals. He came upon a lapped car as he approached Turn 4, hit that car and flipped before landing in the middle of the dirt track. A trailing car driven by Ryan Greth could not avoid hitting him, sending both cars tumbling.
It took what seemed like forever to extricate Clauson from his car. He was airlifted to Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln, Neb. Inside the waiting area, the room filled. So many people wondering how Clauson was.
A trauma specialist from that hospital stood up on Wednesday to speak at the service and said he couldn't believe all the people there. But it didn't take long to understand why. He had never met Clauson, but he grew close to the family as they watched Clauson take his last breath. He realized the impact this young driver had in his short life.
But the impact was about to get much more intense. It all happened when they looked at Clauson's driver's license.
* * *
Inside the hospital on that devastating night, Tim Clauson got the news no dad ever wants to hear.
Tim Clauson (middle), embraces well-wishers at a tribute for his son, Bryan Clauson. (Photo: Robert_Scheer_IndyStar)
"We weren’t given much hope," he said. "We weren’t given any hope."
The son he had spent so many hours with in the garage, working on midget cars, wasn't going to make it. The boy he helped get excused from Noblesville High School to go to races would never sit in a car again.
Family and friends sat there and looked at each other with pain in their eyes and soaked tissues in hand and asked, "What's next?"
Then the father of Clauson's fiancee, Lauren Stewart, thought to ask: "Has anyone looked at Bryan's driver's license?"
Stewart had it. She had Clauson's wallet and his license. She always kept it safe for him while he raced. And there it was. Clauson was an organ donor.
"At that moment, our lives changed," said Tim Clauson. "As bad as it was before, our lives changed for the better."
An organ donation meant three more days with their beloved son. They got to say goodbye, without leaving anything unsaid, Tim Clauson said.
"In the last hours, we just got to sit with him and cry," he said. "It allowed us to go on. It gave us a little hope, gave us life again."
Bryan Clauson saved five people's lives with his organ donations. The family started a campaign called "Chasing 200." In honor of Clauson's life, they wanted 200 new organ donors to register.
By Wednesday, 757 had already signed up, so the family changed the campaign to 2,000. If that goal is met, it will be the largest national organ donation campaign ever.
* * *
Helping people live, even after his death. It's not surprising that Clauson has left that legacy, said Jerry Medlin, a fan at the service.
"He's probably one of the most outstanding individuals I've ever met in my life," he said. "Just an extremely nice guy. Very unassuming."
People attending a celebration of life service for Bryan Clauson signed a banner in tribute to him on Wednesday. (Photo: Robert_Scheer_IndyStar)
After finishing this year's 500, Clauson drove to Kokomo Speedway, where he won a 30-lap sprint car race. That's the kind of guy he was.
Clauson could have raced on just about any circuit and become a star; he was that good, said Medlin, who got to know Clauson in the last two years following USAC.
"The kid was absolutely phenomenal," he said. "I used to race back in the '70s and '80s, so I've got an idea of what dirt track racing takes to do it. I never got to see A.J. Foyt in his heyday or Johnny Rutherford and those guys, but I can’t imagine that there was anybody ever any better than what Bryan Clauson was."
Fans looked up to him. Racing writers praised him. Fellow racers were impressed by him. And none of that seemed to ever change him, Medlin said.
In the end, he was just a fun-loving guy — who was scared beyond belief of grasshoppers.
* * *
They were on their way back to Knoxville from a midget race. Stewart and Clauson and a friend in a car. About two hours into the six-hour drive, a grasshopper glanced Clauson's arm. He hated bugs and flung it toward Stewart, where it landed and then leapt in the air.
The entire way home. Clauson kept begging Stewart to find that grasshopper. He was terrified of it.
"Find it. Find it," Stewart recalled him pleading. "Seriously, if that thing touches me, I'm going to freak out."
Stewart kept looking in the car for the grasshopper while Clauson drove, when a string from his shorts touched his leg.
"He screamed like he was a little girl," Stewart said. "This 27-year-old man who is fearless is scared of bugs."
They never found that grasshopper from the car. At least while Clauson was alive.
Then days after his death, Stewart was sitting for the first time in the couple's home — alone — and that grasshopper came crawling out from his racing suit. She knew.
"It's Bryan," she said.
Become an organ donor for Bryan Clauson
To register as an organ and tissue donor in memory of Bryan Clauson, visit RegisterMe.org/Campaign/BryanClauson.
They don't even know how to spell sprint car
much less chromoly...http://www.ycmco.com