Livin’ on Tulsa Time – Chili Bowl 2014

It’s the Wednesday after Chili Bowl and I’m finally sitting down to share my thoughts and stories from the week with you all! Before I back up to last week, I think you’d all enjoy hearing about my day first. My morning started 30 minutes late after hitting snooze a couple times and then ignoring my alarm all together. Once I opened up my eyes long enough to realize what day it was I rushed to the shower and got ready in a hurry so I wasn’t late for class. It was only the second day of school this semester, so I figured I should arrive on time. Keeping the professors on my good side comes in handy, especially when I need an excused absence here and there. After cleaning up a puddle of dog pee (Chevy rarely has accidents, but it was a crazy morning and she couldn’t hold it any longer – Sorry, pup.), I was out the door and on my way to school. Once I got to school my day continued to spiral downhill – I fell down a flight of stairs in the parking garage, an ink pen exploded in my hand, and at the end of my last class the kid next to me hit me in the head with his backpack so hard that it knocked me out of my chair. I wish I was making this up, but unfortunately it’s all true. That’s not even the end of this eventful day. After school I had to take Bryan to the airport and drop him off so he could head to Australia. It doesn’t matter how many times he leaves; it still stinks every time. He’ll be back in 11 days and I think I’ll probable survive. Bryan and I have this rule about being apart and we’ve followed it ever since we started dating three years ago, with only one exception. Twelve days is the longest time we’ll spend apart without him coming home or me going to him. Sorry for being mushy, but I think that’s really made our relationship strong and I kinda like when he misses me! Now I have Chevy to stay home with me when Bryan has to leave. Looking back on it, I think one of the main reasons Bryan agreed to us getting a puppy was so I’d have a buddy with me when he’s on the road. Chevy and I are pretty lucky because we get to travel with Bryan so much, but when we do have to stay back I really do enjoy her company. If you’ve ever had a dog you know how nice it is to come home and have them greet you with tail wags and kisses. I guess this goes back to me being a crazy dog lady, but having Chevy around makes the times when Bryan’s gone a little better!

Getting back on topic, let’s talk about Chili Bowl! In my opinion, the week in Tulsa is the second best racing week of the year behind the Knoxville Nationals. That should be the next race on Bryan’s “dream win” list if you ask me! (I grew up around wing racing and he likes to joke he had to try it out just so I wouldn’t dump him.) I don’t even know where to begin! We left off when I was on the plane on my way to Tulsa.  I flew to Oklahoma with my friend, Zan, and of course, Chevy. We landed, made a quick trip to the hotel, and then headed to the track! Joey Saldana raced Bryan’s midget on Tuesday night and I have to be honest, that was the only reason I flew down on Tuesday because I wasn’t going to miss his qualifying night! Joey has been my all-time favorite driver ever since I was little, so having him in Bryan’s car was pretty cool. I hope we can talk him into running next year too! I’ll even volunteer to sell your t-shirts next year too. Oh, and we have to get Shannon and the boys to come, so start making plans now!! I don’t have any exciting stories to share from Tuesday night because we were all pretty tired, so we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Wednesday had Payton Pierce in a Bryan Clauson Racing midget. He’s a young kid from Texas and I’m a big fan because he calls me “ma’am” a lot. I really enjoyed getting to know Payton’s family this past week and I hope we get to see them again soon! Payton did an awesome job for just his second Chili Bowl appearance going from 21st to 9th on Wednesday night and locking into the B-Main on Saturday. Wednesday night after the races was the same as Tuesday. Except this time I was ready to go hang out with our friends, so I pouted in the lobby until I got tired and went up to the room. Sometimes I wonder how Bryan handles my attitude, then I realized he deals with it the same way my dad has dealt with it for 22 years: they just ignore it.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was up on Thursday night for Bryan. I’ve mentioned a “Chili Bowl Dream Team” to Bryan before and conveniently enough Saldana and Stenhouse Jr. were both on that list. Next year we just need The Wild Child and my dream team will be complete! Bryan always jokes that I can’t really be his fan because his driving style is nothing like that of Joey, Haud, and Ricky. I have convinced Bryan that running the top every once in a while is okay and I think he even enjoys it sometime! Having Ricky racing for Bryan again this year was a good time! Ricky’s so humble and easy going, so he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s the only person who says my name like my mom says it (“Law-ren”), so I like that too. He brought his other half along with him and we were friends immediately after she told me I looked like Natalie Portman and she loved my dog. She even tweeted at Chevy, which boosted Chev’s twitter following by at least 200 people. It’s official: my dog has more twitter followers than me, but that’s okay because she is friendlier and much more of a people “person” than me. Thursday night was full of shenanigans and adventures. After the races we started out at Caravan where I participated in the world’s longest wobble. I snuck off the dance floor before it was even over because I decided that was enough of a work out for one day. Spridge and XiaXianna witnessed one of my clumsiest moments that involved a full beer bottle, but we’ll just keep that our little secret. After a stop at another fun little joint, we headed back to the hotel for some sleep before BC’s qualifying night!

Bryan winning on Friday night was obviously the highlight of that day! All week long I had a really good feeling about his chances this year, but I never said anything to anyone. I’ve heard Bryan say it a hundred times, “even if you’re perfect, sometimes that’s not enough to win the Chili Bowl.” When he won on Friday night, I was pretty confident that he’d do well on Saturday, but you just never know what will happen. You know what I like best about winning? It really boosts t-shirt sales! After taking pictures and signing autographs, Bryan was ready to head out. We hit the casino, but lost some money fast so didn’t stay long. One lesson I should have learned in New Zealand, but obviously didn’t, is don’t ever, EVER, put it all on a color on a roulette table. I watched a roulette table go 11 black in a row in New Zealand, so I got stubborn and put quite a bit of money on red… black. Did it again with the same result. So, after 13 blacks in a row I put it ALL on red just to watch that little white ball land on green. I didn’t learn from that situation though, because I convinced Chris Windom to put it on black after 5 or 6 reds and of course it was red. Sorry, Windom!

One of the best parts about Chili Bowl is the fact that all of our friends are in one place! I had tons of fun hanging out during the days/nights at the track with XiaXianna Bacon and Katelyn Sweet! Someone asked me once how we all stayed friends even when Brady, Kyle, and Bryan race against each other. Well, for starters, those three have never had an issue on the track, so that makes it pretty easy! If one of our guys is in a heat race, we all cheer for that one. If one of them is leading a race and the others aren’t running up front, we’ll cheer for him to win. We all cheer for our own boys, but we support one another along the way. It makes going to the track even more enjoyable when you know you’ve got some pretty awesome friends there. They understand what I’m going through and what this life is all about, so even though we aren’t all together all the time it’s like we never missed a beat when we are! Thanks for always having my back, girls!

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When Saturday rolled around I woke up and went to the track like it was just another day. Saturday is a fun, but long, day. Having Ricky, Joey, Payton, and Dillon race before Bryan helped ease my anxiety because I had something to take my mind off it! Feature time rolled around and I need to say thank you to the guy who brought the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine by because that came in handy! Because I watched Friday night’s feature from the pits, that’s where I planted myself for Saturday night’s race, as well. I am extremely superstitious, I don’t have enough time to even begin to cover my weird habits, but you’ll learn of them soon enough. So I watched Saturday night’s A-Main on the big screen from my proven spot behind the t-shirt table. I’m so superstitious that I wouldn’t even hold Chevy Saturday during the race, even though she was pawing at my leg, because I wasn’t holding her on Friday. When Bryan took the lead on lap 5, I looked over at my dad and Big Al, who were watching from the pit, as well. When he took the lead I just knew it was his race, but I never let myself get excited because like I said before, you never know what will happen.

When Bryan completed lap 55, I had emotions like never before. I immediately ran over to my dad and Big Al and we all were jumping up and down, cheering, crying, and hugging. It was like I was in my own world when I was on my way to Bryan. There were people high fiving and cheering, but I kept on going. When I finally got to him and he saw me we both screamed in excitement! I didn’t know I was capable of smiling that big until I saw a video from Victory Lane. I couldn’t believe Bryan just won the Chili Bowl!! The moment I will remember forever happened next. Bryan was on stage holding his driller high in the air just absolutely beaming. I sat down in front of the stage, put Chevy in my lap, watched the confetti falling all around us and just took it all in. Spridge, Bryan’s best friend, was right next to me. We looked at each other with matching expressions of, “Is this really happening?.” I had tears in my eyes, in fact, I think everyone who was in Victory Lane celebrating with us did. I have never been more proud of Bryan than I was in that very moment. This is something he has worked for his entire career and I was there to witness his dream come true. It truly was a magical moment and I am so glad I got to be a part of it. When I stood up and started hugging and high fiving I was so surprised when I saw my little brother, Austin! He was so happy and so excited for Bryan. I’ve never seen my little brother so pumped up! I love that my brother looks up to Bryan, but I love even more that Bryan is such a great role model.

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I’m still smiling as I write this and I know I’ll smile when I think about that night for years to come. I want to sincerely thank everyone who congratulated Bryan on his win! He has the best, most loyal fans and we both appreciate you so much! You make my job fun when you come see me at the track and you all know how much Bryan enjoys talking to you and seeing you after the races. Thank you all for making this such an awesome win! Bryan’s done a lot of cool things in his career and accomplished a ton, but I have never seen him more genuinely happy than he was on Saturday night. That’s all for now! Here’s to many more happy moments in 2014!

Hello, 2014!

Before I dive into this I should fill you all in of my plans for 2014. Well, let’s back up even further for just a minute. Let me introduce myself to you with the short and sweet version: My name is Lauren Stewart. I am a 22-year-old marketing student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis. Jacksonville, Illinois is my hometown, born and raised, but after some time in Tampa, Florida, I now call Indiana home. I am proud to be a self-classified crazy dog lady. Our pup, Chevy, goes everywhere we go and she has more friends than most human beings! Even though she sheds entirely too much and I always have to have a lint roller within reach, I love her to pieces. Check her out on Twitter (@ChevyClauson) to see the racing world through the eyes of a dog. You know that phrase “Home is where the heart is,” right? Well, I like to say, “Home is where the hotel is.” In 2014, I’ve spent the night in my own bed 5 times, but you won’t hear me complaining! If you don’t know already, I’m the lucky girl who gets to call Bryan Clauson mine! Sometimes, like when it’s laundry time after a night at the races and he hands me his stinky, sweaty nomex and firesuit, I’m not sure about the “lucky” part, but there are a million other times when I know I really am blessed to be a part of Bryan’s crazy life and be able to do the things we do! I’ve grown up in racing and I can’t imagine my life without it, but that’s another story we’ll cover at a later time! Back to my plans for the year – I am going to write about all of the adventures our fast-paced, hectic lifestyle brings us! So sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

So, let’s talk about this year so far! One of the biggest perks of dating a racecar driver is the fact that you can’t race in the snow, so they always find somewhere warm to go during the winter! Bryan and I rang in the New Year in Auckland, New Zealand. This was the third year I made the trip over with Bryan and, as always, I had a wonderful time! It’s always fun to see and catch up with our Kiwi friends and we always get lucky enough to make some new ones! Racing people are the best people you will ever meet. We see our Kiwi friends once, sometimes twice, a year and they welcome us in with open arms! Our Kiwi friends have become family to us and we can’t thank them enough for everything they do for us when we’re over! Shaun and Fleur, if you’re reading this, give Coop a cuddle for me!! There is plenty of time for sightseeing, pool lounging, and losing money at the casino while we are in New Zealand, which is always fun (except the losing money part), but the best part of the trip is always the racing! Western Springs Speedway is such a cool place. It’s hard to compare it to anything else because it really is one of a kind. The fans are so into the racing over there and really support the international series, so that makes it a lot of fun. The atmosphere is comparable to a Chili Bowl or Knoxville Nationals, just so much excitement in the air. BC couldn’t have started the year off any better than he did. He kicked off his 2014 season by winning the 40-lap “King of the Springs” race. After the races that night I figured celebrating by drinking beverages provided by BC’s sponsor was the best thing to do. And that was the night I learned I liked a Japanese beer called “Asahi.” The 50-lapper was the final of the four international races, and the only one Bryan hasn’t won in his four years of competing in the series. That race came down to the last few laps and man, was it exciting! Michael Pickens, who, by the way, is a Kiwi hero, was leading and Bryan was running second, but catching him. I paced the entire 50 laps and had to watch the last five peeking through my fingers I was using to hide my eyes. I normally don’t get too worked up, but I know how bad Bryan wants to win this race so I was nervous for him.  Pickens ended up having the better car that night and he came out on top. I don’t know if there is anything quite like Michael Pickens winning at Western Springs. The fans absolutely adore him there and they cheer loud enough to make sure he knows it. It’s pretty cool to get to see, even if they were cheering because he beat Bryan! The 50-lapper is still missing from Bryan’s resume, so don’t worry Kiwi fans, he’ll be back to go after it again!

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We were greeted by -20 degree weather, 15 inches of snow, and a cancelled flight when we got back to America. In the words of Chuck Gurney we were, “Six racers trying to get home to see family, dogs, and a new truck.” So what’d we do? Road trip from Chicago to Indy! Thanks to the driving skills of Jerry Coons Jr. and Pete Willoughby we arrived safely in Brownsburg, IN around 6:00 in the morning. I spent the next couple days trying to get back on a normal schedule, but my 7:00 am to 3:00 pm eight-hour naps made that quite difficult. After a few nights of watching every infomercial known to man, I finally forced myself to get back on a somewhat normal schedule just in time to head to the Chili Bowl! So that’s where I’m at now, on a plane with my pup in her kennel under the seat in front of me and our next stop is Tulsa, Oklahoma!

Chili Bowl, here we come!