Taken too soon, Clauson death reminds of the inherent dangers of racing

Hang around auto racing long enough and you will deal with death. You just wll.

It's never easy or comfortable to talk about after the fact, nor is it easy to understand if you don't race yourself.

Over a lot of years in this business, I've spoken to a lot of racers about the subjects of death and the dangers of racing.

In Phoenix in 1990, Formula One champion Ayrton Senna told me he trusted in God and tuned out fear when he drove. Otherwise, he couldn't race the way he did.

Ten years later, in the back of his hauler at Richmond, Dale Earnhardt told me that if NASCAR drivers were afraid, they should tie a kerosene rag around their ankles so the ants wouldn't crawl up their leg and chew their candy asses off.

And then he said he'd known since he was a little kid trailing his dad Ralph around that racing was a damned dangerous sport.

And, yes, Earnhardt said, he understood he could die in a race car. Five months later, he did.

I remember Davey Allison talking about how he had become a better man after a couple of scary crashes in the Robert Yates Racing No. 28 Ford.

One of the most poignant talks was Adam Petty at Charlotte Motor Speedway, shortly after he had accidently run over and killed his crew chief in an ASA race in the Midwest.

Petty said something to the effect that the incident forced him to be a man and deal with grief and danger like a man would. He was 18 at the time.

Hanging in the Infield Media Center at Charlotte, there's still a picture of Adam, his father Kyle and the King in Victory Lane together, all smiles, and nothing but a wide-open world of possibilities ahead of him.

Every time I see the picture of the three Pettys or remember the sound of Earnhardt's voice in the hauler at Richmond, it pulls me up short. Great heroes, taken too soon. Add to the list guys like Dan Wheldon, Justin Wilson, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper and all you can do is shake your head and feel sad.

Today, the world is a little darker and a little sadder with the passing of USAC star Bryan Clauson, by all accounts one of the best short-track racers in the country and one of the best guys, too.

You don't have to know Clauson well to understand he was respected and admired by his peers and loved by his family and friends.

I can't pretend to explain why good people die in race cars any more than I can explain why they die of cancer or heart attacks or of gun shot wounds.

Auto racing has made amazing advancements in safety in the past two decades, so much so that we forget how inherently dangerous it is to race anywhere.

When I worked at National Speed Sport News, Chris Economaki told me one day that in the early days of that publication, there was at least one racing fatality somewhere in the nation virtually every weekend. And in the mid-1960s, the mortality rate for Formula One drivers was a staggering 33 percent.

Nowadays, though, the deaths shock us, because they so rarely happen, which is a good thing.

If you're a racer, you accept that there is danger. The goal is always to make cars and tracks safer, but they will never be risk free.

Senna and Earnhardt told me as much. They, like every race car driver, knew that and raced anyway.

Just like Bryan Clauson did.

This morning, Sebastian Vettel tweeted, "The bottom line is what we do might not be the safest so there is always some risk, but we are ready to take that into account because we love racing and we love motor sports and it is dangerous."

Yes, it is.

And the death of Bryan Clauson reminded of that all over again.

We at FOXSports.com send our thoughts and prayers to Clauson's family and friends and salute a great champion taken from us too soon. RIP, Bryan.