Bryan Clauson was 13 when he competed in his first sprint-car race. The venue was Kokomo Speedway.
It was the sort of occasion a young driver never forgets.
Clauson has raced there many times since.
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In many ways, the quarter-mile, semi-banked clay oval is his favorite track.
“It’s a place where I kind of cut my teeth and grew up,” said Clauson, a Noblesville resident who lives not far from the 68-year-old facility.
“It’s just a place that’s played a big part in my career,” he said. “So it’s kind of special to have that be a place where we do the double.”
The “double” Clauson refers to is what he and Jonathan Byrd’s Racing are calling the “Indiana Double” — an attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the “Kokomo Klassic” on the same day.
If all goes according to plan May 24, Clauson will drive the KVHS/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Chevrolet in the 500, then race that evening in a Byrd-sponsored entry at Kokomo Speedway.
A two-time USAC National Sprint Car champion, Clauson joined Greenwood-based Jonathan Byrd’s Racing last May in a partnership for the 2015 Indy 500.
Little did either party know at the time the deal would be for two races. On the same day.
“It was an idea my girlfriend had, that it would be cool if it could ever be done,” said Clauson, who will be attempting to qualify for his second Indy 500. “I wasn’t necessarily sure that it was quite the right time for it, but I sat down with (team co-owner) David (Byrd) and talked about what all it would take to do it.”
For starters, Clauson will have to qualify for the 33-car Indy 500 field. If he does that, immediately after the race he will drive to Kokomo to compete in that evening’s Kokomo Klassic, thus completing the Indiana Double — a miniature version of the more famous “Memorial Day Double,” of which Jonathan Byrd’s Racing had a hand in launching.
In 1994, John Andretti became the first of four drivers who have attempted to compete in the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (North Carolina) Motor Speedway on the same day. Andretti drove in the 500 that year in a car sponsored in part by Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.
Tony Stewart, Robbie Gordon and, most recently, Kyle Busch (2014) are the only other drivers to attempt the Memorial Day Double, or “Double Duty” as it is sometimes called.
Although the Indiana Double is a considerably smaller version of the more well-known double, it is no small logistical feat for a driver to compete in the world’s most famous auto race and then within hours race again at another track.
But the Byrds are not concerned about stretching their driver too thin.
Clauson, 25, not only brims with youthful energy, he is well-acquainted with Kokomo Speedway. He is the defending track champion, and the Byrds embrace the opportunity to be part of both races.
David Byrd, who shares ownership with his brother, Jonathan Byrd II and their mother, Ginny Byrd, already has a good idea how the day will play out.
“Along with IMS, I know how much Bryan loves Kokomo Speedway, so it only seems right to see him do the double,” David Byrd said. “We’ve already told everybody at Indy that after Bryan wins the 500, we’ll have to take a break from the post-race celebrations so that he can run the feature at Kokomo.
“We’ve suggested that they put plans in place to have all of the media and staff head up to Kokomo to continue the festivities.”
Clauson’s attempt to qualify for the 500 is a signature event for himself and the Byrds.
For the Byrds, Clauson represents their first return to the 500 as a car sponsor since 2005, when Buddy Lazier finished fifth. Prior to that, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing — founded in 1982 by patriarch Jonathan Byrd, who died in 2009 — had been a fixture at Indianapolis for three decades.
In total, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing has fielded 17 entries since 1985. Byrd-sponsored drivers have had six top-10 finishes, including Lazier’s team-best fifth-place in 2005.
Finding a path back to Indy has been long-standing ambition for the Byrds. And last May they found it when a deal came together with Clauson, who is attempting to make the field for the second time in his career.
“It’s been a long time coming, and we can’t wait for May to arrive. Seeing that Jonathan Byrd’s Racing car roll on to the track for the test session on May 3 will be very satisfying,” Byrd said. “We’re planning on being in the BC (Bryan Clauson) business for a long time to come.
“Not only is he one of the most talented racers in the world, he’s also a great ambassador for our brand, and we have some major things planned for Bryan and Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.”
A graduate of Noblesville High School, Clauson started on the inside of Row 11 in 2012 for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He settled for a disappointing 30th-place finish after a mechanical problem knocked him out after completing 46 laps.
He expects a different result this time.
“I kind of feel like we have some unfinished business there after the month we had and how it all turned out,” said Clauson, who also is a two-time USAC National Midget Series champion and has driven in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. “Obviously, there was a lot of learning going on in 2012, and I’m sure there will be some more learning.
“You just kind of look back at the month and try to analyze what things you did right and what things you did wrong. I obviously feel like with the full year to kind of prepare on the team-side that, going into this year, we’ll be a little bit better prepared all the way around.”
And he’s prepared to race not once, but twice.
“As it stands, the plan is right now to have a police escort and hop in the car (and drive to Kokomo), hopefully after celebrating a good run,” Clauson said. “Kokomo will kind of be the last thing on my mind earlier on that day, but it will be a great way to cap off a special night for myself and my family.”
Name: Bryan Clauson
Hometown: Carmichael, California
High school: Noblesville
Racing team: Jonathan Byrd’s Racing
Indianapolis 500 starts: Started on inside of Row 11 in 2012; finished 30th after mechanical failures.
Career short-track highlights: Two-time USAC National Midget Series Champion (2010, 2011); three-time USAC National Drivers Champion (2010, 2011, 2012); two-time Turkey Night Grand Prix winner (2009, 2010); two-time USAC National Sprint Car Series Champion (2012, 2013); Non-winged Driver of the Year (2013); Chili Bowl winner (2014).
Jonathan Byrd’s Racing roster of Indianapolis 500 entries.
Rich Vogler;1985, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’89.
Stan Fox;1991, ’92
Buddy Lazier;1991, 2005