Senior staff writer
The late Jonathan Byrd of Greenwood was convinced there would never be another race car driver like Rich Vogler.
Jonathan Byrd II and David Byrd – the sons of Jonathan and Ginny Byrd – likewise were convinced more than two decades later that there would never be another Bryan Clauson.
Their beliefs were upheld twice in the annals of short track and major league motorsports competition – only to face the same tragedy 27 years later.
Vogler was Jonathan’s discovery at the Indianapolis Speedrome. The Chicago-area charger attracted his attention during the USAC Regional Midget Series in the early 1980s at the one-fifth mile paved oval. Byrd, who owned several Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises then, jumped in as a midget car owner and sponsor for Vogler, who won two series championships at the Speedrome, and later combined to compete in five Indianapolis 500-mile races (1985-1989).
Vogler was killed while leading on the last lap of a nationally televised USAC sprint car race at Salem Speedway in 1989.
Jonathan II and David grew up watching midget car and Figure-8 races at the Speedrome. They also discovered Clauson and finally convinced mom to jump back into the Indianapolis 500 as team co-owners and sponsor (Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality and Restaurant Group) of Clauson’s rise to national acclaim.
Clauson was killed in a violent accident shortly after taking the lead Aug. 6 at the Belleville (Kansas) Nationals, one of the most prestigious dirt track races in the nation.
“My brother and I talked about Bryan as ‘our Vogler’,” said David Byrd, who added that the two drivers were “two men that were a breed apart.”
The racing world mourns for Clauson, his family, his fiancée Lauren Stewart, and his growing legions of fans from the dirt tracks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Byrds had launched what promised to be one of the most memorable and challenging goals in motorsports. Clauson was scheduled to race in 200 races in one season. He died in his 116th race this season with 27 feature wins.
How much can the Byrd family bear to participate in the one sport they dearly love?
This is a family that lived in Greenwood, Jonathan and Ginny were high school sweethearts, they raised their sons to be highly capable of following Jonathan’s path in business and motorsports.
This second tragedy tests their faith and their resolve. They have suspended all their racing operations for the rest of the year. Jonathan II or David may never find another Vogler or a Clauson, knowing that it took 24 years to discover the “next Vogler.”
Clauson thoroughly enjoyed being around anything that had four wheels and a motor. He and his fiancé took part in the V.I.P. opening of the Speedway Karting Center owned by Sarah Fisher and husband Andy O’Gara.
Clauson was among USAC drivers who attended the formal dedication of a three-16ths mile dirt track to Tony Stewart inside the third turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart, also a Hoosier, donned his helmet and driver’s uniform, climbed into a midget car, and tried his best to beat Clauson but couldn’t. Afterward Tony and Bryan sat on the back of a truck for more than one and one-half hour talking about racing and reminiscing with friends.
“To the most versatile driver of our generation – it was an honor to work with you whether it was at IMS or the Speedrome; you gave it your all. Your dedication to the sport was at a whole different level.” – Kyle O’Gara, Beech Grove, Sarah Fisher Racing development driver.
“A God-given talent that made him a favorite to win every time he got in a midget or sprint car.” – Doug Boles, IMS president.
“He was a true racer and a great person. His death leads a void in all of us…” – Dale Coyne, co-car owner with Byrd family in Indianapolis 500.
“It sucks when it’s anybody in racing. It’s hard when you lose them, but it’s even worse when they’re somebody as close to you as Bryan was.” – Tony Stewart.
“Thank you for being part of our Bryan’s life.” – The Clauson Family statement.
“Rest in Peace, Bryan, and enjoy all your match races against Rich.” – Al Stilley, The Southsider Voice.
(Note: People may direct their memorial contributions to the USAC Benevolent Fund website at: http://usaccbf.org/cash-donation/ or checks can be made out to the USAC Benevolent Foundation in the name of Bryan Clauson. The address is 124 E. Northfield Drive, Suite F#129, Brownsburg, IN 46112.)