On the surface, the distance from the dirt oval at Lincoln Park Speedway to the massive, paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway may appear only a few miles apart.
That is unless you’re a young, up-and-coming driver hoping to land a ride in IndyCar racing.
The days of jumping from a sprint car or midget to an Indy car have long passed those who cut their teeth in racing with the small open-wheel machines — unless your name is Bryan Clauson.
The young Noblesville driver remains the lone standard bearer for those who run short tracks across the country on almost any given night, yet has worked his way into the IndyCar ranks.
While he has never sought out the role as unofficial spokesman for short-track racers across the country, he doesn’t hesitate to carry their colors.
He welcomes the opportunity to jump into a sprint or midget anytime his tight schedule allows.
While some might question why the recently turned 23-year-old would risk the chance of losing his part-time ride in IndyCar racing to compete in the smaller and more dangerous open-wheel cars, Clauson says it’s all about being a racer.
“This is what I love to do. This is what I do for a living. One race is not going to stop me from doing what I love to do. It’s something that got me where I am today,” the defending USAC national driving champion mentioned moments after winning at Putnamville last week.
His win came on the second stop of the five-race USAC Indiana Midget Week series. He then jumped from his midget to make the overnight trip to Milwaukee to compete in an Firestone Indy Light event, where he finished 10th.
“A race driver drives race cars. I’ve got some great opportunities on the USAC side. That’s what it is all about,” confided the Indianapolis 500 veteran.
• Series success — The Indiana Midget Week series continues to grow and is taking on many positive similarities of the better-known Indiana Sprint Week for sprint cars.
The five shows attracted almost 40 entries each night out and produced four different winners with Darren Hagen emerging the series champ.
As a driver who made his way into USAC via the midgets, Tracy Hines remains a strong supporter of the smaller cars and sees better days ahead for a form of racing that many said was pricing itself out of business.
“I think the future looks good. We’ve got good car counts, maybe not as many races as we’ve had in the past, but I think the fields are healthy enough to run a 20-25-race schedule each year,” noted the former USAC champion.
He would like to see promoters fall more in line with comparable payouts for the midgets as those of the sprints.
“They [promoters] complain about our car counts, yet they are as strong as those of the sprints. The midgets put on as good if not better than the sprints, yet they pay us less. You get $5,000 to win the sprints, $3,000 in the midgets,” he insisted.
Asked to compare and justify the cost of racing the midgets to that of the sprints, Hines noted that fielding a competitive midget or sprint will cost a car owner a tidy $50,000.
“You can’t justify the costs,” he said. “It’s how bad, how hard you want to play.”
Joe Buckles can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.