This weekend, Bryan Clauson clinched the USAC National Driver's Championship. This is a repeat of 2010's result, which allowed Clauson to receive an ovals-only scholarship to Firestone Indy Lights as part of the Mazda Road to Indy program. This year, it would seem he's ready to do the same.
But should INDYCAR look to send Clauson to Lights in 2012? Apparently, there's a chance he might get some sort of shot in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In my opinion, what the Series should do is help him find a ride for next year's Indy 500.
The young 22 year-old driver represents authentic, grassroots racing talent, and after his performance in Lights last year, you get the feeling he'd at least hold his own on American open wheel racing's biggest stage. It was great having him around for the Firestone Freedom 100 last May--fans seemed to respond well to him being there, and I would think that would only grow with him joining a team and trying to qualify for Indy.
I understand these aren't the days of Rich Vogler or Roger Rager, but at a time where the overall sponsorship situation in NASCAR has slowed some of their recruitment of the dirt and sprint car hometown heroes, INDYCAR's steps towards involving USAC in their Road to Indy have been a step in the right direction. It's given a bit of hope for those who want victories in Salem and Winchester to be a viable avenue once more for a driver to one day get that shot at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Bryan Clauson has already completed in Firestone Indy Lights, with pretty decent results. Drivers have contested Indy with far less impressive resumes than Clauson can boast. Hopefully INDYCAR works with Clauson this year to structure his scholarship to give both a young driver and a time-honored legacy a proper chance at the Indianapolis 500.