The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship Celebration served predominantly to honor new champion Simon Pagenaud and Team Penske, but there were numerous other memorable moments during Tuesday’s ceremony.
One of the evening’s more poignant junctures came when Dale Coyne Racing driver Conor Daly announced that Bryan Clauson, his teammate at this season’s Indianapolis 500, won the INDYCAR Nation Fan Favorite Driver Award. Clauson, a three-time Indy 500 starter and USAC short-track superstar, died at age 27 in August from injuries sustained in a midget race crash.
Daly, 24, knew Clauson for years and was honored to present the award on stage to Clauson’s family.
“Bryan and I both grew up in Noblesville, Ind.,” Daly told the capacity crowd at Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, “but we took very different paths to eventually end as teammates at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I always heard countless stories of Bryan Clauson, the legend, as I went through high school because our high schools were not that far apart. I first got to know him when we shared an Indy Lights car in 2011, which was a very strange thing to do at the time, I thought.
“You could always tell that Bryan had a strong, positive impact on the racing world because everyone across the sport – whether you’re a dirt racing, an oval fan or an INDYCAR fan – everyone was happy to see him get a shot continuously at the Indianapolis 500. It was a true pleasure getting to work with Bryan at Indy this year and see how much the home crowd and everyone around us just supported him and loved seeing him there. He was and forever will be a driver to look up to, a person to strive to be like and a hero.”
Clauson’s fiancée, Lauren Stewart, spoke on the family’s behalf.
“Bryan would start off and say he’s not really an INDYCAR driver and he would be honored that you think of him as one,” Stewart said. “So to INDYCAR, thank you for inviting us tonight, thank you for honoring our Bryan. All you fans that voted every day for weeks on end, thank you so much.
“Bryan loved you, he loved his fans. He loved getting to meet all of you, he loved interacting with you.”
Stewart also said Clauson would congratulate Pagenaud on winning the championship and that Pagenaud’s new dog, Norman, “can finally take (Clauson’s dog) Chevy on a date now,” as they had joked in May.
“I would like to thank everyone who gave Bryan an opportunity to get to the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway, the big track,” Stewart added. “Bryan put the weight of the dirt (racing) world on his shoulders and he made us all so proud every time he strapped into an Indy car. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, KVSH and Dale Coyne Racing.
“Those are three Indy 500 starts that we’ll treasure forever, and we’re so sorry that we won’t get the chance to do more.”
In closing, Stewart leaned on the phrase Clauson used whenever he won a race.
“Thank you guys for having us,” she said, “and, fans, thank you for helping Bryan ‘park it’ one more time.”