Bryan Clauson, an accomplished sprint car driver who had competed in three Indianapolis 500s, died Sunday night from injuries suffered in a midget car crash on Saturday at the Belleville (Kansas) High Banks. He was 27.
Clauson's family confirmed his death in a statement released Monday morning by USAC officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Last night, the 7th of August, we said goodbye to our son, my fiancé, our friend, Bryan Clauson," Clauson's family said in a statement released by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "He was surrounded by family and friends and we were grateful that we could experience his final moments with him.
"Our Bryan fought to the end with the same desire that he demonstrated behind the wheel of all the various race cars he would park in victory lane. However, we were more proud of our Bryan that took a moment to make a young fan's day, or demonstrated his uncommon kindness and appreciation toward his friends, family and fans."
Clauson was leading the Belleville Midget Nationals when his car climbed the guard rail between Turns 3 and 4, flipped and stopped on the dirt track, where he was then hit by Ryan Greth. Clauson was transported to Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"It's surreal to think Bryan Clauson is gone," tweeted Danica Patrick, whose boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was especially close with Clauson and drove for the Clauson family team as recently as the 2016 Chili Bowl in January. "He was one of the good ones. He was kind, funny, and a damn good driver. Heavy heart today."
USAC president Kevin Miller said Clauson's death was "devastating" and left a tremendous hole in the racing community.
"This is truly one of the darkest days of the 60-year history of the United States Auto Club," Miller said. "Not only have we lost one of our greatest USAC champions, we lost a true ambassador for all of motorsports. Bryan was an accomplished driver on both dirt and pavement. ... Bryan's passion for our sport was unparalleled.
"He was a leader not only on the track, but in the pits with his fellow competitors."
Our hearts are heavy with the news of @BryanClauson's passing. Godspeed to him, and our thoughts & prayers are with his family.— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) August 8, 2016
Everyone at Team Penske sends out condolences to the friends, family and fellow racers of @BryanClauson. A great racer that will be missed.— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) August 8, 2016
"It's a tragedy," Tony Stewart, who owned cars driven by Clauson over the years, told reporters Sunday after the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. "That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job. ... I don't care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it."
A three-time USAC national champion in midgets and the winner of two USAC National Sprint Car titles with more than 170 career USAC victories, Clauson drove in the Indianapolis 500 in 2012, 2015 and 2016. He led three laps in the 2016 race, where he finished a career-best 23rd driving for Dale Coyne Racing.
The Noblesville, Indiana, resident competed in 26 NASCAR Xfinity Series races from 2007 to 2008 for team owner Chip Ganassi, with a career-best fifth-place finish in June 2008 at Kentucky. Clauson was engaged to be married in February to Lauren Stewart.
"NASCAR extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Bryan Clauson, a passionate competitor whose love for racing fueled his unmatched positive spirit," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Connell said via statement. "He was a dear friend to many in the racing community, and he was loved and respected by all who knew him. He touched the lives of so many in our motorsports family, and his warm presence and relentless enthusiasm will be missed."
Clauson was pursuing a goal of competing in 200 events during the 2016 season, ranging from midget races all the way up to the Indianapolis 500. The August portion of his "Chasing 200" tour was scheduled to take him to six states to compete in 22 races.
The Belleville Nationals race Saturday was his 117th event of the season. He was the defending champion and a three-time winner of the event, staged on a high-banked half-mile dirt track. Chad Boat won the 40-lap race, which was run to its completion following the Clauson crash on Lap 14.
It was his second wreck of the weekend.
He started seventh on Friday night in Belleville before he was in another vicious wreck. After that crash, he posted on Twitter his appreciation for his safety equipment, his chassis manufacturer and his team for getting his car ready for him to race Saturday night.
"It sucks when it's anybody in racing," Tony Stewart said. "It's hard when you lose them, but it's even worse when they're somebody as close to you as Bryan was."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.