Because people usually think of NASCAR races as weekend-long tailgates, many assume that all racing drivers love to party. It actually was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the late Bryan Clauson’s relatively tame off-track lifestyles, however, that led to them becoming extremely close friends.
Stenhouse and Clauson formed a “really special” friendship — as Clauson’s fiancée, Lauren Stewart, referred to it — early in their careers, largely because they usually were the designated drivers for their friends, according to USA TODAY. Despite racing against each other in lower categories, the two drivers didn’t know each other well when they moved in together circa 2008, but they quickly grew close.
Clauson died at 27 years old in August following a crash in the Belleville Midget Nationals. Stenhouse and Danica Patrick, as well as Kyle Larson and Katelyn Sweet, attended a memorial later that week at the Knoxville Nationals, after which Stenhouse and Stewart stayed up until roughly 5:30 a.m. talking about the accident.
“In that moment,” Stewart told USA TODAY, “I knew Bryan and Ricky’s friendship was something really, really special.”
The two reportedly got on so well because they have similarly laid-back natures. Stewart reportedly said both Stenhouse and Clauson told her they had especially fond memories of playing cards at Landon Cassill’s grandmother’s house.
Like many racers, Stenhouse honored Clauson in his next race with a message on his helmet — and a special paint scheme — though the message he gave to Stewart in Knoxville, Tennessee was even more impactful. The first thing he and Patrick reportedly told her that day was, “we want you to know that we are here for you, and we are now your best friends.”
And his continued support for both the Stewart and the Clauson families proves that he meant what he said.
“He’s definitely stayed true to his word,” Stewart told USA TODAy. “He’s a pretty special guy for doing that.”
Thumbnail photo via NASCAR
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