US open-wheel driver dies after horror smash

© IndyCar Media

Leading US open wheel racer Bryan Clauson has died after a horrific crash during competition in Saturday night's Belleville Nationals midget race being held at Belleville High Banks, a half-mile dirt oval track in Kansas. He was 27.

Clauson was a three-time USAC National Midget Series Champion and also a three-time USAC National Drivers Champion. He was a Chip Ganassi Racing development driver and had taken part in three Indianapolis 500s, including the most recent event in May in which he led three laps and finished 23rd in a race ultimately won by former Manor Racing Formula One driver Alexander Rossi.

Saturday night's accident started when Clauson smashed into the guard rail while trying to pass a stalled vehicle on the penultimate lap of the race. His car flipped over and rolled multiple times and was then impacted by another car.

It took 27 minutes before rescue teams were able to extract Clauson from the wreckage and airlift him to nearby Bryan Medical Center West in Lincoln, Nebraska where he was listed as being in critical condition. He ultimately succumbed to his injuries and died the following night.

"This is truly one of the darkest days in the 60-year history of the United States Auto Club," said USAC President and CEO Kevin Miller.

โ€œBryan Clauson combined his passion and enthusiasm for grass roots racing with a God-given talent that made him the favourite to win every time he got in a midget or sprint car," added Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles. "He could use that talent in just about anything with wheels.

"More importantly, he possessed a humility and character out of the race car that made him a person that fellow competitors and fans alike enjoyed being around.

"His spirit, his positive outlook and his thrilling talent will be missed by the entire racing community. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are with the Clauson family in this difficult time."

A statement from the Clauson family released on Monday morning said that Bryan had "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."

They added: "We would like to thank everybody who has shown their concern toward us and kept us in their prayers. We will never be able to truly thank you. We would also like to thank the staff at Bryan Medical Center who stood and fought with our Bryan since he arrived here early yesterday morning."

Other tributes were paid to Clauson on social media, with Indy 500 champion Rossi posting: "About to roll out on track and heard the news of Bryan Clauson. Shocked and stunned. Godspeed to him and prayers for his family."

Andretti Autosport tweeted that "Bryan Clauson was a true competitor and will be missed. Our thoughts are with the Clauson family, Lauren and our entire racing community."

"All at McLaren are saddened to hear of the passing of NASCAR & IndyCar racer, Bryan Clauson. Our thoughts are with Bryan's friends & family," said a tweet from the Woking-based Formula One team.

"Man had endless talent," added IndyCar racer Graham Rahal. "But more importantly was a heck of a good guy, a caring individual & carried himself w/ class and dignity!"

"It's just terrible. It's a tragedy," added Tony Stewart, a former champion in both IndyCar and NASCAR. "That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job. No matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile."

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