Race highlights fun, organ donation and traffic safety


Zeb Wise grabbed his trophy and an orange checkered flag before hopping in a police cruiser to take a victory lap around the course at Freeman Municipal Airport.

The 16-year-old professional dirt track driver emerged from the field of other drivers, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Tyler Courtney, to win bragging rights Tuesday during the Driven 2 Save Lives Hot Pursuit Road Course Challenge at the Seymour airport.

As good as winning feels, even if it’s just for fun and not a U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned race, Wise said the real victory was that more people learned about organ donation.

“It’s pretty special to have people hear more about organ donation,” he said. “That’s what today is all about.”

The race was organized through a partnership between the Indiana Donor Network and Seymour Police Department. The event gave fans a chance to see drivers up close before the race but also to learn more about organ donation before being given a ticket to the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Police also raised awareness about proper seat belt use, distracted driving and school bus traffic violations.

The track was a 1-mile course where Seymour police officers train each year. It featured extreme turns and a change in elements between asphalt, broken asphalt and gravel.

Wise, Thomas and Courtney each drove a retired Seymour police cruiser for three laps, rotating the cars. The average time of the three laps determined the winner.

The race came down to the final lap when Wise edged Courtney with the average time of 1:37.76. That was four-hundredths of a second better than Courtney’s 1:37.80.

It was an impressive race for Wise, who oddly enough failed the written portion of his driving test before he received his license in February.

“I failed miserably. It wasn’t even close,” he laughed. “Honestly, I went in there with way too much confidence thinking I know everything. Being a race car driver, we tend to think that way.”

Wise is the driver for the Driven 2 Save Lives campaign, which started after dirt track champion Bryan Clauson was killed in a crash during a midget race in August 2016 at Belleville High Banks Speedway in Belleville, Kansas.

Wise was the final driver Clauson added to his team as a development driver. He was only 12 years old at the time, he said, and he looks back on that time with pride.

“It’s pretty special to hear that story,” he said. “I wish I would have gotten to work with him more.”

Clauson’s sister, Taylor McLean, was inspired to work for the Indiana Donor Network after she saw the impact of organ donation following his death.

The three-time USAC Midget series and USAC National Drivers series champion was able to save five lives through organ donations. He also could heal up to 75 people through tissue donation.

McLean’s work allows both of her worlds of organ donation awareness and dirt track racing to be fused together. Her family is part owner of Clauson-Marshall Racing, and they go to races every weekend. Wise is a member of the team.

McLean, 26, said she didn’t know much about organ donation until her brother’s death, but now, she’s on a mission to tell everyone about its impact.

“It became my passion to share our story with as many people as possible and help as many people as possible,” McLean said. “If I can help that donor sister that’s going through the same thing that I went through in 2016, then I hope that donation will be an outlet for them, as well.”

She remembers her father, Tim, reminding everyone about the impact of organ donation shortly before Clauson died.

The family was gathered to tell Bryan goodbye, and their father reminded them that their loss would mean other people would be able to continue to live.

“There’s five people out there that are getting that phone call that their life gets to continue because of Bryan,” her father told the family. “That’s when it hit me that this is all bigger than the race car Bryan but speaks more to me about who he really was as a person.”

The family has met his heart and lung recipients, who have since become avid dirt track racing fans.

“It’s cool to see his legacy live beyond the racetrack,” McLean said. “Racing is something at some point his legacy will live forever but continue to fade as a new generation of racers come through, but his donation has kind of made his legacy last forever.”

Tracy Coleman, who works as Valeo, took his lunch break to watch the race. He said he is a fan of racing and enjoyed seeing the drivers up close and compete.

“It was well done, and I have not ever seen anything like this,” he said. “It was a nice little break from the workday.”

Coleman also took time to listen about organ donation even though he is a registered donor. He said the decision to be an organ donor should be a simple one for people.

“It should be an automatic for people because once we’re gone, it shouldn’t matter to us,” he said. “So many people are affected and waiting on organs, and once you’re gone from this world, your body doesn’t mean anything more to you anyway.”

That selflessness is the attitude McLean hopes to create with each person who hears Bryan’s story or the impact of organ donation. With 114,000 people nationwide — and eight in Jackson County —who are waiting for an organ donation, McLean hopes her story and work can help.

“If I can make that number one less, then that would be a success to me,” she said.

On the Web

To learn more about organ donation, visit indianadonornetwork.org.

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