For any driver, the Indianapolis 500 is a special race because, well, it’s the Indianapolis 500.
But this year’s running, the historic 100th, may be the most special Indianapolis 500 of all.
And Bryan Clauson, like the other 32 drivers on the starting grid, is thrilled to be a part of history.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the 100th running,” said Clauson, who will pilot the No. 88 Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda in Sunday’s race.
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A Noblesville resident whose childhood dream was to drive in the Indy 500, Clauson will be making his second straight start and third overall.
Clauson’s first race was in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. His second was last year with KV Racing Technology/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.
He finished 30th with mechanical issues in 2012. He was 31st last year following a crash on Lap 61.
This year, with a quicker and better handling car than the 2015 ride that qualified with the field’s slowest speed, Clauson is confident of a quality showing on Sunday.
The Daily Journal caught up with Clauson, a midget and sprint-car star whose full-time short track sponsor is Greenwood-based Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, for a Q&A:
A: How much smoother was qualifying compared to last year?
Q: I had a lot more confidence going into the (qualifying) weekend. The process has been a little bit better. We knew we weren’t really shooting for the pole or anything, so for us it was about finding a pit level that matched the conditions and that was going be comfortable and get through four laps. We were pretty happy with that. We felt like there was more to be had there, but we had one of the more consistent runs throughout the first set of runs, anyway before it got real cool late in the afternoon. I ended up 22nd. It was a good day of qualifying for us. Then we went to Day 2 and it got really hot and really windy, and so it kind of became a risk/reward type deal for where were at on the grid. We probably played it a little too safe and ended up 28th. We kind of made the conscience decision to be on the safe side to make sure that we got through.”
Q: What has the month been like compared to previous years?
A: The month for me is just all about learning. Last year was the first time in four years that I’d been back in an Indy car. Last year I never really had any confidence and never really got going at all, so I kind of felt like we came into this year starting from square one again.
So it’s been going through the process, trying to figure out what I like, what I don’t like, how the cars react in traffic. We’ve been able to find comfort every day. Some days we start really well, other days we have to work a little harder to get there. But at the end of the day, we’re finding what we need.”
Q: What is it actually like to drive in the 500, with the pageantry, crowd and the action on the track?
A: It’s crazy, and this year’s going to be probably the craziest of them all. The amount of people that will be in (the crowd), it’s just going to be probably something that we’ve never seen before. It’s going to be exciting.
Obviously, there’s already a lot of hype, and the atmosphere around the race leading up to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s fun to be a part of that.
Race day’s always been a lot of fun and energy. You can feel it out on the track, especially during opening ceremonies and things like that. It certainly gets you wound up for the race.
Q: Are there butterflies? What’s the morning like before you climb into the car?
A: Your first (500) is probably when you have the most butterflies, but I think that’s part of the process, learning how to handle the moment and handle your feelings and your nerves and your excitement. I think every year they get a little better, but I think the time when they go away is the time you should stop racing.
You put so much time and effort into this one race, and at that point you’re hoping you made all the right decisions throughout the month and give yourself a good car on race day.”
Q: Do you any sort of pre-race ritual or routine you go through the night before, or the morning of?
A: Not really. It’s just about relaxing. If you spend all night thinking about … you just try and clear your head and make sure you’re ready to go when you wake up on Sunday.
It’s hard a enough and long enough day that you don’t need to spend all night thinking about it or worrying about it. You’ve just got to try to relax the night before and make sure you’re rested up, because Sunday’s a lot of work.”
Q: What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to run in this particular historic 500?
A: It’s once-in-a-lifetime. It’s going to be the greatest, greatest spectacle in racing. It’s going to be wild. There’s going to be a lot happening out there. I think there will be a lot of passing. It’s going to be interesting.
I think it’s going to be wild and crazy, and whoever wins it is definitely going to earn it.
Name: Bryan Clauson
Hometown: Carmichael, California
High school: Noblesville
Indianapolis 500 starting position: Will start on inside or Row 10 in 28th position
Car: No. 88 Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda
Qualifying numbers: Warmup lap 225.133; Lap 1: 226.126; Lap 2: 225.765; Lap 3: 224.852; Lap 4: 224.330; 4 Lap Average: 225.266
Previous Indianapolis 500 starts: Started on the outside of Row 10 last year and finished 31st following a crash; started on inside of Row 11 in 2012 and 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)