Facebook always asks me (and the millions of other people who login multiple times a day), “What’s on your mind?.” I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen that question over and over and never really stopped to answer it before or the fact that I haven’t written in over a month so my mind is overflowing with things to talk about, but either way, here it is: exactly what is on my mind on this beautiful Thursday, (wait, it is Thursday right?) afternoon. I’m in Belleville, Kansas at the historic place known as The Belleville High Banks.
Race season is in full swing and we’re in the middle of summer, so I’m to the point of the year where I don’t even know what day it is when I wake up. I can tell you where Bryan’s racing at tonight, the next night, or next week, but ask me what the date is and I definitely won’t be able to tell you that! We left home on Monday for this trip and the first stop was in Beloit, Kansas. Bryan won the midget race that night, so that started off what will hopefully continue to be a good week for the 63 team! (Side note – BC blew a motor in the feature tonight, so fingers crossed Saturday goes better!) The best momentum you can have going into a big race weekend like the Belleville Midget Nationals is a win at the previous race. Chili Bowl was huge for gaining momentum at the beginning of the year with a new team, but with a handful of rainouts at the start of the outdoor season and a very dominant Keith Kunz Motorsports lineup, BC didn’t get back to victory lane in the 63 until the final night of Midget Week at Kokomo. That happened to be Bryan’s birthday, so he gave himself a nice 25th birthday present too!
Beloit was a pretty cool night at the races because it was the first time I’ve heard Rusty Kunz tell old stories and talk about some of the accomplishments he’s achieved throughout his racing career. It started when we were all in the trailer hanging out before things got going that night and someone started talking about the Chili Bowl. Rusty was telling stories about different drivers he had worked with in Tulsa and his memories ranged from drivers who had taken home a driller on Saturday to guys who had missed the A-Main by one spot and even a couple guys who were still racing when the sun was up on Saturday. Rusty said sometimes it’s just luck and sometimes, like this year, everything just falls into place. 2014 was uneventful (in a good way) for the 63 team and Rusty said at the end of it he looked at Todd, one of his crew guys, and told him he couldn’t believe how easy it was! “That place will humble you,” was my favorite quote from the conversation. Hearing a guy like Rusty Kunz talk about a race, a race he has won multiple times, with such awe and respect is really neat. That’s what makes races like the Chili Bowl so huge – when you’ve got the best in the business eager to get there and take their shot at winning year after year.
The only race that compares to the Chili Bowl is the Knoxville Nationals. Knoxville and Chili Bowl – those two are on their own level and man are they fun! I like that they are almost exactly 6 months apart because it adds to the appeal of each event. Once you leave Tulsa you can start the countdown ‘til Knoxville and when you leave Knoxville in August you know Chili Bowl is less than 6 months away. I tell people that the Chili Bowl is like an indoor version of Knoxville and vice versa. Everyone in racing wants to be at these two events, fans, drivers, owners. The difference – you get guys from different types of racing to run a midget at the Chili Bowl, but Knoxville collects a crowd of 100+ winged sprint car drivers from all over the country, even world for that matter. The similarities – huge crowds, the anticipation, the excitement when you get to the racetrack, and of course, the week-long party that surrounds both events. We’ll be in Knoxville in three short days and I cannot wait! I love everything about the Knoxville Nationals. Everything. This year will be a little different because Bryan is racing the Buffalo Wild Wings 82, but I’m looking forward to that much more excitement being thrown into the mix! We have t-shirts and everything, so he’s practically a professional winged racer now. Shameless plug – 82 merchandise is available online here: http://www.bryanclauson.com/BC-Merchandise-d1-T-Shirts-c1. I still get quite a bit more nervous watching him in a winged car than I do in anything else, so if you’re looking for me on Thursday (B’s qualifying night), chances are I’ll be at Dingus taking the edge off before the racing action gets started.
I love learning about the history of the sport and hearing old stories from back in the day. Some of my favorite moments in racing are when I get to witness history first hand and you know you are watching something special – like watching Donny Schatz win seven of the last eight Knoxville Nationals, seeing Dave Darland inch closer and closer to the all-time record for USAC Sprint Car wins, or seeing Kyle Larson sweep the USAC portion of the 4-Crown (although I admit, I was cheering for Bryan pretty hard during the silver crown race – he ended up finishing 2nd.) Speaking of Darland, if you’re a race fan you need to read his new book. I read it during Sprint Week and really enjoyed it. I’ve grown up in racing and I’ve heard my dad and grandpa talk about old racers and races, so I have an appreciation for learning about stuff like that. I’m sure we’ll mosey over to the Museum here in Belleville tomorrow and we always go to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame when we’re in Knoxville. Me, my dad, and Bryan stopped at Speedy Bill’s museum in Nebraska earlier this summer and it was fun to walk around and check everything out with them.
My favorite thing I took away from Dave’s book was when he was talking about a bad night at the races. He said that just because he finished poorly, something broke, or he crashed doesn’t mean he has to take that with him after the race is over. Fans are still going to want to talk to you and shake your hand, even if you had a bad night. Dave said the best thing about a bad night as that he’s pretty lucky and chances are he’ll be heading to another racetrack the next night where he’ll have the opportunity to go at it again. I thought that was a pretty neat perspective to have on things. I get so upset when Bryan runs bad, usually more so than him. Not too long ago he started on the pole at Kokomo at a local show and finished 4th. First to fourth. I was not impressed, especially because I drew the 1 for him in the redraw! Bryan shares Dave’s perspective on things, maybe it’s something you develop when you’ve been doing it long enough. Bryan once told me no matter how bad he finished or things went on the track, it’s a good night if he’s leaving the racetrack walking and talking. Both Dave and Bryan have been around the sport for a long time and they understand that bad things, really bad things can happen, so there’s no sense in getting all bent out of shape over something that won’t be relevant tomorrow. I like that perspective. I think it’s pretty cool that while reading that part of Dave’s book I thought of Bryan.
Bryan is very, very humble and he would never talk about his accomplishments to this point as being record setting or anything special, but he’s accomplished so much and I think he has a resume to be proud of! He’s won the Chili Bowl, the Belleville Midget Nationals, Turkey Night, Indiana Sprint Week, Indiana Midget Week, started on the pole at Daytona, he’s a USAC Sprint Car Champion and USAC Midget Champion, he’s raced in the Indy 500… and he won a World of Outlaws heat race earlier this year! Winning is fun, but it’s not quite everything. You have to enjoy winning and to do that you need to like working with the people on your team, have a good relationship with your car owner, and it makes it a lot more fun if you have fans cheering in the stands who are just as excited about a win as you are. Bryan has all of these. At the end of the night after winning Tuesday in Beloit Rusty came over to Bryan and they shook hands. Bryan thanked Rusty for all of his hard work and Rusty thanked Bryan right back. It was a small, tiny detail of the night, but it was genuine and it captured the mutual respect they have for each other. I think it’s really cool and something that most young drivers don’t do these days, but I could be wrong. It’s that extra little effort that could really go along way in the end. They won’t win together every night, but I guarantee there will be a handshake at the end of every night and that’s what matters the most.