US racer Bryan Clauson, who has died following a Kansas midget car accident at the weekend, had become a regular drawcard on the New Zealand speedway scene with an impressive record of midget car success on Kiwi tracks.
In multiple visits to New Zealand Clauson had driven for the Takanini-based United Truck Parts team of Brian and Annette Theobald, contesting the summer season of international racing, mainly at Auckland’s Western Springs with appearances at other tracks.
‘‘It was a real privilege to have Bryan race for the United Truck Parts team,’’ says Brian Theobald.
‘‘Watching him race in our car made us feel very proud.
‘‘He first drove for us when he was only 19 and he hadn’t travelled out of the ‘States before. He very quickly became like family to both ourselves and the Insley family.
‘‘Bryan really enjoyed racing here and in Australia and he had built up a really good fan base in New Zealand. He definitely had a special touch for Western Springs.
Photo / Colin Smith
‘‘Our greatest memory with Bryan was the 2014-15 season when together we won seven out of eight races. He won four out of five in New Zealand including the [Western Springs] 50-lapper and then won three-out-of-three in Australia.’’ Having Clauson behind the wheel gave the team an edge in the bigger races.
‘‘He had a real knack for bringing the car home. He’d finish the race with more rubber left on the tyres than the opposition,’’ says Theobald.
Racing in New Zealand last summer had given Clauson’s ‘‘Chase to 200’’ or self-titled ‘‘Circular Insanity’’ campaign to race 200 times during the 2016 an important head start. The campaign had begun in New Zealand in January and if the 200 target was to reached it was most likely to occur in New Zealand in December.
He was on track having reached 117 races in midgets, winged and non-wing sprint cars, USAC Silver Crown cars and making his third Indianapolis 500 start before last weekend’s accident. He’d already won 27 times.
Brian Theobald says his team was planning to double its efforts with Clauson this summer by adding a sprint car to the programme.
‘‘We’ve got a sprint car arriving very soon that was going to be for Bryan to drive. It would have meant he could have run about 20 races here this summer.’’
Many tributes have described Clauson an ‘‘old school’’ racer and a throwback to an earlier era of racing when drivers didn’t specialise but raced anything, anytime, anywhere.
For New Zealand speedway fans Bryan Clauson was a reminder that you can pay admission to a local dirt track and be rewarded with the thrill of watching a world-class racer in action. For those who visited the pits afterwards for an autograph or a tee-shirt the champion driver was also a fine ambassador for racing.
Bryan Clauson is going to be greatly missed in New Zealand.