INDIANAPOLIS — For more than four decades, the United States Auto Club had a heavy presence in Indy car racing as the sanctioning body for the world’s biggest event — the Indianapolis 500.
During that time, many drivers from the USAC Championship Trail found their way to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with many becoming household names and others achieving legendary status.
Drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, the Bettenhausen brothers, Mel Kenyon, Rich Vogler and Gordon Johncock came to Indianapolis with sprint car and midget racing roots, and nearly the entire group found success in one form or another during The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
However, in due time, Indy car racing and its cars became more and more specialized and eventually, the pipeline from USAC short-track racing to the Indianapolis 500 began to wane.
While the relationship between USAC and IMS formally ended after USAC was dropped as the sanctioning body for the Indy Racing League in mid-1997, hopes always remained that one day, a path for USAC stars to return to the speedway’s hallowed grounds would materialize again.
That path may be starting to reappear, but this time the bridge isn’t in the form of a series or schedule.
Instead, the bridge may well be coming from USAC’s reigning sprint car national championship team.
When Clauson-Marshall Racing — the dirt open-wheel operation co-owned by Tim Clauson and Richard Marshall which won last year’s AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series title — announced its intentions to field an Indianapolis 500 entry, short-track fans across the country paid attention.
Would this be the time that a star USAC driver would appear at the famed 2.5-mile oval?
Those dreams didn’t come true this year, with Indy 500 veteran Pippa Mann brought in as the driver of the No. 39 Dallara-Chevrolet, but the emotion and impact behind the announcement was clear.
A major USAC team was finally racing at Indianapolis again and Clauson knew as much as anyone how big a deal that was to Midwestern auto racing.
It meant the two sides were becoming closer again, particularly in the wake of last year’s successful USAC national midget event held at the quarter-mile dirt track nestled inside turn three at IMS.
“The sentiment from everyone, ever since we first made the announcement that we were going to do this, was that this effort starts to bring some of that USAC flavor back to the speedway, and that’s something that we’re really excited about,” said Clauson. “This is not just because of what Bryan (Clauson) did in 2012 in making it to Indy, either. You have to look at what Doug Boles did for our sport at the speedway, with the BC39 and the dirt track last year, and the monumental effort that he put in to help build that bridge.
“I feel like it’s a lot easier to do this now because we’re all trying to achieve the same goal, in that we want to get our fans to enjoy Indy car racing and the Indianapolis 500, and then vice versa, we want to get Indy carfans to also enjoy our type of racing.”
The first cry from many onlookers when the CMR announced its Indy entry, was for reigning USAC national sprint car champion Tyler Courtney, or perhaps former USAC sprint car and Silver Crown titlist Chris Windom (who will race the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race at IMS) to get a shot at the Indianapolis 500.
Clauson took a more-calculated approach, however.
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