INDIANAPOLIS – The last driver that Bryan Clauson handpicked as the next great USAC driver was Zeb Wise. How fitting was it that the 15-year old won the race featuring Clauson’s namesake on Wednesday night. Wise, used a late race pass with two laps-to-go to win the Stoops Pursuit race on night No. 1 of the Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink at the Dirt Track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wise, from Angola, Indiana, drove on the upper “cushion” of clay on the quarter-mile oval and slid past leader Alex Bright in Turn 4 with the white flag in the air. Wise, who started 18th, then stayed in the high groove and powered his way through the final lap to the checkered in the No. 39BC car fielded by Clauson-Marshall Racing, co-owned by Clauson’s father, Tim.
“I figured I couldn’t follow everybody around the bottom or I’d lose spots,” Wise said. “I tried the top side. I was patient with it, figured it out and came through the field. Starting 18th, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I just had to stay in the race and get there at the end.”
Wise earned $3,200 for the victory in the Stoops Pursuit. Bright was second, with NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse and J.J. Yeley finishing third and fourth, respectively. Jerry Coons Jr. rounded out the top five.
The historic first USAC P1 Insurance National Midget Championship event on the new dirt track honors late USAC champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 starter Bryan Clauson and increases awareness of the Indiana Donor Network and its Driven2SaveLives campaign. The 39-lap feature event Thursday night will be the richest in Midget racing, with more than $70,000 in purse and incentives, including a $15,000 winner’s purse.
Tim and Bryan Clauson pinpointed Wise as a talent for the future when he was 11. They asked Wise to help the team during Indiana Sprint Week in 2016 and immediately were impressed by the 13-year-old’s work ethic. Bryan Clauson told his father that Wise was someone the team should keep an eye on for a future ride.
Bryan tragically lost his life just a few weeks later in a racing accident, but Tim Clauson heeded his son’s advice and hired Wise as a development driver in October 2016 for the 2017 season.
Wise has fulfilled the Clauson’s belief, as he became the youngest national feature winner in USAC history this season at age 15 – breaking Bryan Clauson’s record.
“I’m sure Bryan is up there smiling, and I can’t think him and Tim enough,” Wise said. “They gave me an opportunity that I can’t be grateful enough for. Thank you, and thanks to all the fans. I’m speechless.”
The Stoops Pursuit race featured 24 starters – the top 10 in qualifying points, the 12 heat race winners and two promoter option spots. A competition caution was thrown every four laps, and cars that were involved in incidents or lost more spots than gained exited the track.
Brayton Lynch led most of the early stages in his No. 1K car fielded by Rusty Kunz Racing, hugging the low line. Bright and Wise stayed dogged in their commitment to the high line while running second and third, respectively.
Then with four laps to go, Bright and Wise powered in tandem past Lynch in the high groove. Wise then dove under Bright between Turns 3 and 4 on the second-to-last lap and slid up in front of Bright for the lead exiting Turn 4.
“Zeb was really aggressive, a lot more aggressive than I was comfortable with,” former USAC standout Stenhouse said. “I felt like I was watching myself back in the day. He does an awesome job. Really cool for him and the Clauson-Marshall team.”
The Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink will feature another full night of action Thursday at The Dirt Track at IMS. Public gates open at 4 p.m., with hot lap sessions starting at 5 p.m.
Qualifying races at 6 p.m. and Main races at 7:45 p.m. will whittle the USAC-record field of 114 cars to 22 starters (plus two USAC provisional starters, if applicable, and two IMS options) for the 39-lap feature event, which starts at 9:30 p.m.