Chief Mechanic Leads Effort to Repair Car, Qualify Rookie Bryan Clauson for Indy 500
SPEEDWAY, Ind. (May 25, 2012) - Brad Larsen may only be 30 years old and not an Indianapolis 500 chief mechanic for long, but he is well aware of the stature and regard held for the late Clint Brawner.
That's why it was easy for Larsen, the lead wrench for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry with rookie driver Bryan Clauson, to sum up his feelings after learning he'd been named the 2012 recipient of the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award.
"To be honored with Clint Brawner is amazing," Larsen said. "He's a legend."
A legend indeed. Brawner was renowned for his mechanical wizardry, serving as chief mechanic for six national champions and 51 race victories. The Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award, in its 26th year and sponsored by Firestone Racing, is awarded annually to the Indianapolis 500 chief mechanic who, according to the Clint Brawner Foundation, "exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise" of its namesake. As this year's winner, Larsen receives a $5,000 check and a plaque bearing his name.
Larsen earned the award by first preparing a racecar for newcomer Clauson that ran near the top of the daily speed charts in practice, and then guiding his crew in a lengthy overnight repair after Clauson crashed on his pole day qualifying attempt. Clauson coolly stepped back into the restored car Sunday and qualified safely on the 11th row for the 96th Indy 500.
"When we first unloaded the car this month, it was fast," said Larsen. "It ran pretty good all week, then we spooked ourselves a little bit on Friday, got a little lost. We looked pretty good Saturday until he hit the wall."
As soon as Larsen and his crew learned Clauson was OK following the crash, they set their sights on the next step. The team's spare car was a bare tub that would have required extensive work to get ready for the following day. According to Larsen, the crashed primary needed repairs to the entire left side, as well as the engine, gearbox and turbocharger.
Larsen was there every step of the way, guiding the mending process and pitching in wherever needed. He said that working for the small, family-oriented Fisher Hartman team made it easy for him and the crew to remain motivated, though they worked until 2:30 a.m. Sunday and were back at the track at 6 a.m. to finish in time for that day's practice and qualifying. Larsen credits his driver and bosses - team co-owner Sarah Fisher and her husband, general manager Andy O'Gara, for the inspiration.
"I love working for a guy as nice as Bryan as well as Andy and Sarah," said Larsen, who worked various positions at Ganassi Racing for 10 years but left the sport in 2010 to return to his native California and get married. He was enticed back to help on Fisher's second car last year at Las Vegas and returned to the team for Indy after serving as a chief mechanic at Dragon Racing the first three races this season.
"To be able to work for people like that is great," he added. "Andy and Sarah were there the whole time getting us what we needed to fix the car. It's one big family and a wonderful feeling to show up each day and have everybody happy to see you. It's a breath of fresh air to work for somebody like that."
Larsen will also become part of the permanent Brawner award trophy located in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, with his name added to the scroll with the previous 25 recipients.
"Brad joins a long list of excellent chief mechanics to receive the Clint Brawner award," said Page Mader, Firestone Racing's general manager of race tire development who presented the check and plaque today along with Carl Gehlhausen, the Brawner Foundation's secretary/treasurer, in a ceremony on the IMS yard of bricks. "As a matter of fact, one of the previous winners is his current boss, Andy O'Gara, who now helps run one of the up-and-coming teams in the series. Other past winners have gone on to become some of the top mechanics in the business and some have even gone on to own teams. Who knows where Brad will wind up, but he's clearly off to a great start and Firestone Racing congratulates him."