"It's a Wonderful Life" in Kokomo - Remembering BC!

Friday, August 26, 2016
(Mike Musslin Photo)(Mike Musslin Photo) August 26, 2016 – Showing my age a little bit here, but I’m sure many of you have seen the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  The film actually lost over a half million dollars after its release, but it found new life in my childhood.  Ted Turner owned about fifteen stations, and around Christmas time you could see “It’s a Wonderful Life” roughly 447 times a year if you wanted to.  What started as changing the channel, because the movie was black and white, eventually turned into me knowing every line from the movie.  Eventually, Turner sold the rights to I think NBC and you can see it only once or twice a year (so I had to go get the DVD).

If you’re not familiar with the movie, I recommend it highly.  Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, and Denison Iowa’s Donna Reed plays Mary.  In a nutshell, the film goes through George’s life, the highs and eventually mostly the lows.  He marries Mary and has three kids, but the family business seems to be going kaput.  George thinks about ending it all on a bridge in a snowstorm, but his guardian angel, Clarence, shows up.  He’s got to earn his wings you know!

Clarence gives George the opportunity to see what life would be like in Bedford Falls if George were never born.  He saw the vast number of people he helped along the way financially and with his support, the lives his brother saved in World War II because George had saved him along the way, etc.  I thought about George Bailey a lot at the Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life at Kokomo Speedway on Wednesday.

Many times, we don’t see the true impact a human being has had until they are gone.  I think all of us knew that Bryan had a big impact (at just the age of 27!), and I think he knew as well.  But I don’t know that any of us could sense the magnitude and scope of one man’s reach…I don’t know how many of us can fathom it still…and that scope will continue to grow.

Immediately, you think of the family…and they are incredible people.  As a father alone, I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through and how they’ve done it.  His fiancé Lauren kept things going at the Celebration.  They will all continue to need our support. 

Then you look around.  The sky threatens but the place is packed.  A fan from Australia was sitting behind me, making the journey for this occasion.  There are people from California, from Pennsylvania, from out of the woodwork and all over the country!  The captains from the Cornelia Marie on “Deadliest Catch” are here.  There are dignitaries, friends and everyone one big racing family, all with their own stories.

The drivers are scattered about as well.  From Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse, Levi Jones and Christopher Bell to current competitors like Bacon, Courtney, Darland and Coons.  BC touched us all and many more.  During a rain/tornado delay, I was able to see another side.  “The Colfax Comet” Robert Bell towed the entire 2015 USAC season on his open trailer from Iowa.  He is always good for a story or two, but this time when he pulled me in it was different.  There were tears in his eyes.  “You have no idea what he did for me in there Bill,” he said, pointing to the pit area.  “No one knows the things he did for me…the fans especially.  They didn’t get to see that side of him.”

But so many of us did.  His good friend, Ben Hodgin, who is autistic and was honored as the advocate of the year for autism was on hand.  A new award will be given out every year in Bryan’s honor by the Autism Society.

Should it have been a surprise that the goal for organ donors of 200 was surpassed before we ever got started?  Bryan made five families’ days in Nebraska with his organ donation.  200 donors would have been a record, but now we’re over 2000.  Let’s see how high we can go!  Even if you are already a donor in your state, register nationally in Bryan’s honor at www.RegisterMe.org/Campaign/BryanClauson

So many stories were told, and they ranged from emotional to really humorous.  From a trauma representative from Lincoln’s hospital, to car owners, to close friends, to journalist Robin Miller…it was an experience no one will forget.

On top of everything, Kokomo Mayor Goodnight sent a proclamation that it was “Bryan Clauson Day” in Kokomo.  Will the city ever remember this one!  A tornado did touch down in town, leaving 25,000 people without power.  The Starbucks that was destroyed got most of the national attention, but more importantly there were numerous homes destroyed and people without shelter as well.  Schools were damaged, etc. too.  A state of emergency was called.  Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.  What I noticed most was how quickly the city bonded and mobilized.  It reminded me a lot of our racing family.  Kokomo IS going to bounce back…

Here’s how you can help…

- If you live in Howard County or near the area, you can drop off donations at The Excel Center at 101 W. Superior St. in Kokomo. They say they DON’T need clothes. Diapers, formula, and toiletries are a top priority.
- Text HOOSIER to 41444 to donate to The Salvation Army’s tornado relief efforts. The Salvation Army is sheltering 200+ people in need of food and shelter.
- You can call the Howard County’s 211 hotline if you want to help as a short term volunteer and answer phones or hand out supplies for the Red Cross.
- Raffle proceeds from the Colts’ preseason game on Saturday against Philadelphia will be donated to the American Red Cross and other service agencies.

After driving around for an hour trying to find a restaurant with power, I happened to get in line at a Wendy’s next to a high school student that saw my Clauson shirt.  “I wanted to be there,” he said.  “But I had school.  He let me wash his car the last time he was here three weeks ago.  He was a really nice guy.”

The only words I could come up with were, “He’s still giving to all of us.”  It made me think.  How big would that grandstand be, if everyone who wanted to be there could?  Bryan touched so many, and was such a great person.  We all touch so many that we don’t realize every day, and Bryan’s gathering was a good reminder of that for us.  If we can live our lives half the way that Bryan did, that’s the greatest honor we can give him and our legacy to others.

A few people asked me where they could find the OW101 interview with Bryan last April at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum.  It’s about 45 minutes long and covers a lot of his racing life.  You can find it on www.OpenWheel101.com in the “Interviews” section.

(Mike Musslin Photo)

Bill Wright
Bill W Media
Twitter: @BillWMedia
Website: www.OpenWheel101.com