Only three drivers in the history of the AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship have achieved the feat of back-to-back-to-back titles, but Noblesville, Indiana’s Bryan Clauson will start the 2014 season on Thursday at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida with that exact result in mind.
After recovering from four missed races due to other commitments to win his first championship with the Corey Tucker/BCI/Curb-Agajanian Racing #7 in 2012, Clauson stepped into the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing #20 for 2013 and picked up where he left off. Seven wins each season and both championships now present him with the opportunity to join Steve Butler, Robbie Stanley, and Levi Jones as the only drivers to take three-straight.
“Walking into an organization like that, where they have a tradition of winning championships, is a lot of pressure. To step in and go through the process, with the downs and ups of the season, it was satisfying and a lot of fun to work ourselves into form and contend for the championship. I’m excited about some changes we made through last season and in the offseason, so hopefully we can come out even stronger and defend it,” Clauson said.
The TSR operation was no stranger to success and championships, as Jones won four-of-five championships before Clauson broke through in 2012. The 2013 season posed a legitimate test, however, as the team saw changes in nearly every area. In addition to the change in the seat, only Brad Mariscotti remained from the crew, and the team switched to Beast Chassis. For the first race of the year, car builder Bob East joined the team as an advisor and Warren Beard completed the crew assembled by race director Jimmy Carr. East would become a full-time addition early in the season.
Despite winning their first race out of the box in a spirited battle with Dave Darland, the beginning of the season was self-described as “challenging.” Still, the group found enough footing for Clauson to take his second-straight “Eastern Storm” title in early June using consistent finishes, as a second win on the season was still lacking.
“Each driver is so different. The characteristics of the way Bryan drives a car versus Levi before him are just not the same. Luckily, we meshed together pretty well from the start. It took us a little while to marry everything together and figure out exactly what Bryan likes, and that’s when we started to see better results,” Mariscotti said.
The wins finally flooded in when the biggest week of the season came, as Clauson took back-to-back wins to close “Indiana Sprint Week” at Putnamville and Bloomington and steal the week-long championship. Two races later, he opened up “Sprint Car Smackdown” at Kokomo (IN) Speedway by slicing from 14th to win without the aid of a caution. By the time Clauson won at Little Rock, Arkansas in early September, he had tied Darland for the point lead.
To close out the championship, they backed up a big win in the final Midwest race of the season at Lawrenceburg (IN) Speedway with another in the first night at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Arizona. As Darland had difficulties, Clauson was steady and dueled with Darland at the “Oval Nationals” as he narrowly missed a win in the final race of the season while clinching the title in the process.
Not only was it Clauson’s fourth career National title (joining his two National Midget championships), it was the first Sprint Car title for former racer East, who has achieved numerous titles in both Midget and Silver Crown competition as crew chief and team manager.
“The Sprint Car title was definitely a focus, after we got going. It was the only one that I hadn’t won, and I wanted to do that. It was a lot of fun; it’s the first series in so long where I had no other cars (chassis customers) competing, so I could totally concentrate on our team. It was a great group to race with. We believed in each other, and confidence makes a big difference,” East said.
Clauson, who now sits tied for 16th all-time with 25 career National Sprint Car wins, also relished the opportunity to win with his new group.
“I always dreamed of working with Bob, but never really thought it would be on the sprint car side. When I was coming up, he was king of the midgets. To have an opportunity to work with him and get the chance to win the sprint car championship with him was cool. The chemistry he and Brad had, being friends even outside of racing, helped a lot. Bob wasn’t necessarily supposed to work with us all year, but after Ocala it was obvious that we would be good together,” Clauson said.
For Mariscotti, it was a slightly different point-of-view, but the level of satisfaction was similar.
“It meant a lot for me, personally, as the only guy still there from all our other championships. And we were able to win the Silver Crown championship, too, with Bobby (East). To be able to go out with a new driver and a really small team, it felt great to do it again,” Mariscotti said.
As the top six pairings from last season remain intact for 2014, along with some strong additions pursuing the full schedule, Clauson knows a target will be on them as they try to defend the crown with their Chevrolet Performance – Curb #20 Beast/Kistler.
“It looks like the National Sprint Car bunch is as strong as I can remember it being, and we know that other teams have gotten better in the off-season, so we’ll have to start a little quicker and be even better than last year to do it again,” Clauson said.
Thursday’s season opener at Ocala kicks off “Winter Dirt Games V,” which is preceded by a practice night Wednesday evening. Tickets are still available for advance purchase at BubbaRacewayPark.com while an online pay-per-view is offered at USACracing.tv and further information about the race, including post-race coverage, will be found at USACracing.com.