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Top Moments of 2018 - #2: BC39 Debuts with Huge Success

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The dream spawned in July 2016, when a small dirt track was scratched out of the ground inside Turn 3 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a field of dreams for retiring NASCAR and IndyCar champion Tony Stewart.

Stewart, USAC champion Bryan Clauson and former USAC standout and IndyCar driver/owner Sarah Fisher turned that short oval into a playground that day in Midget cars, slinging dirt and smiles everywhere.

While the three drivers chatted after turning hot laps, Clauson looked to IMS President Doug Boles and wondered out loud, “Why don’t we make this a real thing and run a USAC show here?”

The idea stuck with Boles, as avid of a dirt-track racing fan you’ll find. And it only intensified after three-time Indy 500 starter Clauson – known as “BC” in the motorsports community – tragically lost his life in a racing accident in August 2016, just five weeks after he had so much fun turning laps on the dirt at IMS.

Clauson loved racing, loved IMS and loved life. So it was only fitting he saved five lives as a registered organ donor and continues to heal the lives of countless others as a tissue donor. In January 2017, Indiana Donor Network partnered with Clauson-Marshall Racing and expanded Driven2SaveLives – started in memory of late IndyCar driver Justin Wilson – into dirt track racing in honor of Clauson.

BC’s dream became reality in June 2018 when IMS, USAC and the Indiana Donor Network announced the Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink on Sept. 5-6 at The Dirt Track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a new quarter-mile dirt track built on the same spot where Clauson, Stewart and Fisher had so much fun playing in the dirt and dreaming in July 2016.

The two-night event could not have been a bigger success despite a soggy obstacle from Mother Nature on the second night.

Appreciative, enthusiastic crowds packed the temporary grandstands along the front stretch of the clay oval, watching the first competition under lights in the 109-year history of IMS. The event attracted nearly 120 entries in the largest USAC Midget field in recent memory, and the entry list included countless USAC champions and NASCAR stars such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Christopher Bell, and IndyCar driver Conor Daly.

There appeared to be some divine karma at work on the first night of action. Zeb Wise, the 15-year-old protégé of race namesake Clauson, used a classic “slide job” on the second-to-last lap to win the Stoops Pursuit race.

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’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.”

Heavy afternoon rain threatened the BC39 feature race Thursday. But the skies cleared, and track crews worked tirelessly to groom the clay oval into a tacky surface perfect for racing. The sticky dirt also was a marked contrast to the dry, dusty conditions of the previous night, offering an even greater challenge.

Delays caused by rain forced a condensed schedule of heat races and the feature. But instead of dampening the action, the tight format turned up the heat. And the 39-lap feature race – in memory of Clauson’s racing number – was magical, everything BC could have hoped for in July 2016.

Two-time USAC Sprint Car champion Brady Bacon passed pole sitter Kevin Thomas with seven laps to go and hung on to win the inaugural Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS Energy Drink on Thursday night.

A capacity crowd, which included retired NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Cup Series standout Ryan Blaney, witnessed history as Bacon added his name to a list of inaugural featured race winners at IMS.

Thomas led the first 32 laps. Bacon started seventh but climbed to second just before a six-car pileup in Turn 4 triggered a caution with 28 laps to go. Chad Boat, the son of Indy 500 pole winner Billy Boat, had jumped to fourth, behind Courtney, by that point after starting 10th.

The top four remained static during caution periods with 25 laps remaining and 23 laps remaining. With 19 laps remaining, Boat passed Courtney for third as the race stayed caution-free until the end.

Thomas, Bacon and Boat then reached a dense thicket of traffic with 13 laps to go, but Thomas stayed out front despite multiple attempts by Bacon to take the lead on the fast, tacky track, which featured a wide cushion of dirt on the high line.

Bacon made his decisive move in Turn 4 with seven laps remaining, passing Thomas for the lead with a powerful move in the low groove. Boat jumped to second one lap later and set his sights on Bacon but never pulled even with the “Macho Man” over the last five laps.

The event originally was scheduled as a one-time special. But the BC39 was so successful – and just so much pure fun for all involved – that it was almost academic when IMS announced Dec. 6 that the race would return in September 2019.

Thanks, BC. Your dream became our reality, and we’re forever grateful.

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