NOBLESVILLE, Indiana — They came to this spot a year ago to take engagement photographs at Forest Park Shelter 5.
Colder temperatures couldn’t diminish the warmth Bryan Clauson and Lauren Stewart shared for one another. The shoot included the couple’s dogs, Chevy and Stewart.
“It feels like it was yesterday,” Lauren said. “I’ve got pictures all over my house from that day.”
She returned to this memorable location on a warm, shiny Saturday with family, friends and about 250 others to remember Clauson, a racing legend who proudly called Noblesville home, a multiple national sprint car and midget champion with 112 career USAC victories who died at 27 on Aug. 7, 2016, a day after a race crash at Belleville, Kansas.
Stories were shared and tears shed before, during and after a one-hour ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of a historical marker with Clauson’s picture, his many racing accomplishments and his legacy. Indiana Racing Memorial Association (IRMA) and the City of Noblesville teamed with Clauson’s family to place the marker in this sentimental place.
“The only thing missing is Bryan,” said Stewart, 25, “but he’s right here with us because he’s the reason we’re all here together.”
The dogs came, too, of course.
“It’s incomplete without the dogs,” she said of Chevy, a 4-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, and Stewart, a 3-year-old Beagle Terrier. “We went everywhere with them.”
Every day since Clauson’s departure has been an emotional rollercoaster. His parents, Tim and Diana, proudly looked at the marker, at the photo his mother called her favorite, an image of the driver sporting his serious race face, “the look.”
“I think the biggest thing I miss the most is his smile,” Diana said, smiling and shedding a tear.
“They’re all emotional,” Tim said of each day. “Here we are, six months later, and people still think of him and care about him and want to show their respect for him. That says a lot about him.”
The marker is fixated next to the parking entrance outside the shelter. The front side reads: “Known internationally as one of America’s most popular and successful short-track racers, Bryan Clauson was also a proud Noblesville Miller. Despite his passing in 2016, at only age 27, his mark was already indelible. 112 USAC wins ranks him in the top five all time. With USAC he won two National Midget Championships, two Sprint Car Championships, and three Drivers Championships. He won the Chili Bowl, the Turkey Night Grand Prix twice, and the Belleville Nationals three times.”
The tribute continued on the back side: “Bryan also took his thrilling talent to the upper echelons of the sport, racing in NASCAR, and three times in the iconic Indianapolis 500. Despite his remarkable success, however, Bryan is best remembered for his humility, kindness and positive outlook. Even in his passing his generosity was demonstrated. He was an organ donor, and five individuals and their families received the miracle of life as a result. Bryan Clauson could have left no greater legacy.”
Clauson led the 100th lap, the halfway point, in last May’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. He finished a career-best 23rd. The unveiling ceremony fittingly included the Winchester Speedway Barber Shop Quartet singing “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.”
Pippa Mann, who recently re-signed with Dale Coyne Racing to run in her sixth Indy 500, spoke of how Clauson was “the glue” to the team’s engineering room in an ambitious four-car endeavor last May.
“I can tell you that as keenly as the USAC world has felt his loss, and his family has felt his loss, I want to speak for everybody in INDYCAR racing, we too have felt Bryan’s loss and we too will miss him,” Mann said.
Longtime Indy 500 radio broadcaster Howdy Bell was master of ceremonies. He was joined at the microphone by Bob Jenkins, former chief announcer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.
“Bryan Clauson, he was too talented to die in a race car,” Jenkins said. “We as race fans are just thankful that we had him for a few years, to admire and enjoy in his short career.”
Stewart’s and Clauson’s parents spoke, as did best friend Kirk Spridgeon and Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear.
“Wherever he was, he represented the City of Noblesville to the ‘nth' degree,” Ditslear said. “He brought much joy to our community as we watched him grow through the driving ranks and participate in that sport.
“(The marker) will be a way for everyone to touch Bryan and remember him as we serve a model for generations to come, for his work and for those who work hard and set goals as Bryan did.”
Spridgeon’s voice continually cracked as he shared some of his fondest memories. They often spoke last year of how Clauson was rising up USAC’s all-time win list.
“He thought it was really cool when he tied Gary Bettenhausen on the all-time sprint car win list,” Spridgeon said.
The racing community has helped family and friends endure.
“As we’ve learned afterward, as much as he loved to race, he loved the people in racing,” Tim said. “That’s probably what has gotten me through it the most, the stories we hear from fans, officials or promoters, kind of the one-on-one interactions behind the scenes that most don’t know about.”
Stewart, who still wears the engagement ring from Clauson's Easter proposal, proudly clings to those memories. She recalled coming home without him from Kansas. As the car turned down the street to the home they shared, every house had green street lights in honor of him.
“It took my breath away,” she said. “Bryan definitely was the best half of me. I wake up every day and just want to be a little more like him.”
Diana, 49, and Tim, 51, were looking at the marker again and imagined what Bryan would say. Their level-headed son, they agreed, would be a bit embarrassed. They laughed about that.
“He’s probably rolling his eyes right now in heaven, saying, ‘Really, Mom?’” Diana said. “He’s probably telling everybody, ‘Get out of here. Go to the racetrack.’”