IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard confirmed Wednesday that the winner of the USAC National Drivers Championship will receive a scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights during the 2011 season. The scholarship, believed to be worth $300,000,will be applied to a ride in the oval-track races of the Firestone Indy Lights series next season.
Levi Jones currently leads Bryan Clauson by 91 points heading into the final four sprint car races of the season.
“When I took this job I started reading about A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and the Unsers and how they got to Indy so I think it's imperative we embrace our history and tradition,” said Bernard. “Tony Hulman founded USAC and it's important to restart the tradition of USAC oval racers competing at Indianapolis in May.”
Clauson and Jones both expressed appreciation for IndyCar's gesture.
“I know Levi and I both want to run Indianapolis and it's a great opportunity, an opportunity I didn't think I might ever have,” said Clauson, a 21-year-old native of Indianapolis. “I figured the only chance I probably had to make it to Indy was in NASCAR at the Brickyard 400.”
The USAC champion's scholarship will allow short-track open-wheel drivers a path to the Road to Indy, the development ladder system launched by IndyCar earlier this year for career-minded open-wheel formula car drivers.
"I have listened to countless fans say we need more American drivers and I don't disagree, but I think it's more important to say we want the best American drivers in the world," Bernard said. "I'm a firm believer in our official ladder system the Road to Indy. The experience the Road to Indy provides is essential for drivers to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series. We hope to have some significant changes in the near future that enhance and strengthen the Road to Indy."
USAC's National Drivers Champion will be crowned based on points earned in all three National Series – Silver Crown, Sprints and Midgets. USAC will tally points for the best 25 finishes of competitors for recognizing the overall National Drivers Champion.
"IndyCar is the pinnacle of American open-wheel racing, and USAC is honored to have this opportunity to share this new relationship and build the Road to Indy through USAC," said USAC President and CEO Kevin Miller. "We look forward to extending our heritage with Indy car racing while presenting new, exciting opportunities for our participants."
The USAC-IndyCar partnership will also includes cross-promotional marketing components "that allow IndyCar to become involved in USAC events as well as extend the IZOD IndyCar experience to USAC fans beginning in 2011," the league said in a statement announcing the program.