FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — All the teams running in the Indianapolis 500 dream of racing to that checkered flag.
But this year, the number 39 car will be driving more than just Pippa Mann.
It’s carrying a very important message that millions will see: organ donation.
It’s a story wrapped in tragedy for the racing community, but one that forces a conversation that can save lives.
Racing became Tim Clauson’s life. His son Bryan followed in his footsteps.
Bryan Clauson raced in NASCAR, starred on the dirt track and was a three-time USAC National Drivers Champion. He also raced in the Indy 500 in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
He and his dad created a short-track racing team and the sport became his life.
As he took the lead at a race in Belleville, Kansas in August of 2016, the sport he loved took it all away.
And in those darkest hours, came something unexpected.
“When we lost him, we didn’t know he was an organ donor,” Tim said.
But this was Bryan’s last wish because of a heart on his license.
“They need to know fairly quickly if those organs are going to be viable for donation and to save lives,” Tim said. “I’m very honest in saying if Bryan wasn’t a registered donor, I really don’t know if in that moment, if I would have said yes.
But Tim did say yes and that choice, made in the darkest of the dark, the lowest of the lows in Tim Clauson’s life, saved five people.
Bryan’s organs went to five people facing life or death.
“We get to see where these organs end up with the recipients and the life they go on and I want to speak to what it did for me and our family as a donor family and how it was important for us to not only carry on with living but to live a life that means something,” Tim said.
That something meant talking about a taboo in racing that can strike fear in the fearless and distress the unstressed: death.
And whether to give those organs to others when they can’t give us life anymore.
114,000 people are on the national transplant list.
In 2016, Tim partnered with a new organization, Driven 2 Save Lives to get the conversation about organ donation going in the racing community.
A campaign to get 200 people registered turned to 6,000.
“To see that kind of reaction, not only in our little world of midget and sprint car racing, but throughout motorsports as a whole was absolutely incredible,” Tim said.
As they push that conversation to continue, Tim’s racing career is in drive.
He’s started another racing team, Clauson-Marshall racing…
He’s focused on the dirt track but Bryan is riding shotgun.
Tim’s built a tribute to him right in the workshop.
And the goal is to get a dirt track rider to follow in Bryan’s footsteps by driving in the Indy 500.
But whatever happens in racing now is more than just about winning.
“It is the small conversation I had with somebody that touched on organ donation, how they became a donor when they lost their dad and he was a donor and how proud they were of that, those are the boxes I check now when we leave an event,” Tim said.
And that will be clear in May. They’re partnering with the Indy donor network and the Driven 2 Save Lives campaign to have a car in the Indy 500.
Pippa Mann will drive the car and a message planted for millions to see.
“Our whole reason for doing this is to spread the message, to get the donor list down to where it’s insignificant where every life is being saved,” Tim said.
As hard as it can be to think about that day in 2016 when it may have been hard to see a path forward worth living, Tim Clauson is paving his path.
And he’s not close to being done yet.