When Lauren Stewart lost the love of her life, Bryan Clauson, little did she know how life-altering the experience would be.
Before Clauson’s fatal crash in the 2016 Belleville (Neb.) Nationals, the couple was slated to promote a USAC midget show at the Southern Illinois Center on the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. Despite her tremendous grief, Stewart was determined that the show must go on.
Over the last seven years, the Shamrock Classic has become a labor of love for Stewart and a way to honor Clauson’s memory.
“I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea, but it was all my late fiancé Bryan Clauson,” said Stewart of the event. “It was his doing. Bryan talked with USAC and they had the date at DuQuoin. They were looking for a promoter and Bryan volunteered him and I to do it and then I have kept it going every year since.
“There was really no doubt that I was going to continue the Shamrock Classic. It just made it a little more special. But it was something Bryan and I started together and I just I continued it on because I think he'd be disappointed if I didn’t keep it going."
Ticket sales have been brisk for this weekend’s races on the 1/6-mile dirt track at the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin. The Shamrock Classic presented by Dooling Machine Products features two nights of racing. Friday night’s victor of the 40-lapper will pocket $2,000. Stewart upped the purse for Saturday’s 50-lap feature to $10,000.
A star-studded lineup of veterans including current USAC midget point leader Justin Grant—who won the race five years ago—USAC Triple Crown winner Jerry Coons Jr., four-time USAC Sprint Car champ Brady Bacon will headline the March 11-12 events. The ever-entertaining Thomas Meseraull and local favorite Zach Daum are among the 42-entrants. Cannon McIntosh, who won the last two poles for the Shamrock Classic and was victorious in 2019, leads a strong contingent of youngsters including Mitchel Moles and Ryan Timms.
As a lifelong race fan, Stewart’s approach to promoting the Shamrock Classic comes from the perspective of an avid spectator. The Jacksonville, Illinois native has plenty of experience to draw from since her parents were involved in the merchandising end of motorsports. Stewart attended her first race “in the womb,” and considers herself a “concession stand connoisseur.”
Having an innate understanding of the sport and a degree in business from Indiana University has provided the 30-year-old entrepreneur with a solid base for marketing the event.
“The biggest thing that I have leaned on while promoting an event is just my own personal experience of being a race fan and every decision that I make for the Shamrock Classic goes back to my thinking of, ‘OK, if I were sitting in the stands, what would I want to see? What would I want to have at that race?
“And then, I have a couple of close friends in the sport who I've definitely bounced ideas off of and they helped me out. But a lot of it is just trial and error and cross your fingers and hope for the best. Like you said, yeah there are not very many women and promoters in the sport, so that's pretty cool and I take pride in that for sure.”
Stewart has a lot to be proud of—not just with the growth of the Shamrock Classic but with her chosen path. While the tale of a beauty queen falling in love with a racer almost sounds cliche, the former Miss Eldora’s life took a different path after the tragic ending to her six-year relationship with Clauson.
“After Bryan’s accident, I didn’t have a ‘normal’ to return to,” Stewart said. “After about a year, I was still trying to make it day-to-day. When I finally sat down and decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I thought about the nurses we had in Lincoln (Neb.) who were taking care of Bryan.
“And I said, ‘You know what, those nurses made my worst moment just a little more bearable—not just only treating Bryan with love and compassion but for caring for me and our families. So I decided to go back to school for nursing. So now, I’m an emergency trauma nurse and I’m very fulfilled by that career. I truly feel it is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”
After two years as an ER nurse in Indianapolis, Stewart will change gears again. On Monday, she’ll start a new chapter as a travel nurse—but not until after her duties surrounding the Shamrock Classic.
“It’s doing really well—we’re about sold out of the reserved seating,” Stewart said. “I’ve really had a lot of interest about it, especially on social media and everything, so I'm excited.”