By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
No one could ever accuse Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan of being a pessimist, and his short-range list of goals proves his optimistic nature.
Bringing Orleans Racing to the Nextel Cup Series and competing alongside Robby Gordon in the Dakar Rally are high on his list -- but everything takes second place to Gaughan helping to return Orleans to its former prominent ranking in the Craftsman Truck Series.
But Gaughan said Sunday, the final day of Preseason Thunder Craftsman Truck Series testing at Daytona International Speedway, that simply returning to the level of 2003 -- when he and Orleans won three Bud Poles, six races and fell 40 points short of winning the championship -- wouldn't satisfy anyone in the organization.
"I don't want to get back to '03 -- I want to get into '06 and do better," Gaughan said. "If I was the Georgetown men's basketball team, I could remember 1984 all I want, or 1986, 1983, 1992, 1996 -- that's great. But you want to make that next year better than it was.
"This race team is tired of people saying 'back in '03.' That's done, so we're going to learn what we can from it, keep those trophies on the shelf and move on."
Gaughan is well versed in Hoya history, since he played for coach John Thompson at Georgetown as a contemporary of Allen Iverson, but he's a hard-core racer now.
The 2005 season proved Orleans' row is a tough one to hoe. While fielding trucks for Gaughan and Cup veteran Steve Park, they finished 19th (Gaughan) and 22nd in the drivers' championship.
Park won in his second start, at California, but combined the two drivers totaled only four top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. So Gaughan is relieved Orleans will only run one Dodge truck this season.
"The great thing is we took all that equipment and said, 'OK, we're only running one team, now,' but we didn't lay anybody off," Gaughan said. "We went back to the theory we had back then, when we only ran one truck. The guys really respond well to me -- I'm more of a cheerleader type of a driver.
"So I get them pumped up. We go out, we live together, we work together and in the end, we're going to make '06 better than '03 because we have great, talented employees, plenty of equipment and we're going to make that equipment right, with the help of Dodge and their engineering staff."
Three days of testing, while not overwhelming on the time sheets, at least provided a lot of direction.
"We found out a lot," Gaughan said. "Even though the Orleans team has been very, very poor on the time charts, that doesn't mean 'throw in the towel, we suck, let's go home.'
"We had tape configurations to figure out, like, which ones cool better and which ones are faster. Even though we're slow, you can figure out which configurations make you go faster."
Gaughan and crew chief Tony "Rambo" Liberati spent three days charting tendencies in their pair of Dodge Rams and Gaughan was satisfied with the results.
"We had different shock locations, different cowl work, different carburetor settings," Gaughan said. "We had a whole list of things to try, we found out which ones we liked and now we'll go home, cut the bodies off, put all the good stuff on and come back."
Gaughan said, in addition to sponsorship from the family's Orleans Hotel and Casino, he also anticipated support from Jasper Engines & Transmissions, last year's primary sponsorship, and NAPA Auto Parts.
"Jasper will definitely be on our truck, only not as our primary sponsor for the whole year," Gaughan said. "Doug Bawel and I and the Jasper Engines & Transmissions folk have a great relationship, and we've had too much fun with them to just say, 'See ya.'
"We may end up with a Robby Gordon-esque Craftsman Truck team, where we have a group of primary sponsors. We're talking to a number of other people, and with our Dodge support, The Orleans and maybe NAPA catching a couple, we'll be just fine."
In a series that has heavy manufacturer support, Gaughan expressed no concern that Dodge, whose trucks he has run for years, would center most of its factory backing on 2004 series champion Bobby Hamilton's team.
"Full support is a misnomer," Gaughan said. "Manufacturers are not there to fund the race team.
"I still get all the engineering support I need from Dodge, I still get access to all the wind tunnels and I still have Dodge engineers working with me here. I have all the stuff that Dodge can give me to go fast -- the only thing they had to cut back was how much money they had to give their teams."
If he's successful in getting back to page one in the Truck Series, Gaughan said he'd seriously look at expanding his horizons.
"I want to take the Orleans Racing team Nextel Cup racing," Gaughan said. "I could go drive for other people, but unfortunately I have way too much pride and a lot of teams don't want me to be Brendan Gaughan, the son of Michael Gaughan, grandson of Jackie Gaughan, people born and raised in Las Vegas that ran casinos.
"A lot of people don't like that and my dad always tells me that I need to be quiet about it and just go on and do it, but he taught me different. I don't like hiding who I am and I'm very proud of what my dad has done.
"I still work in the casinos -- on Super Bowl Sunday I'll be working in the sports book taking bets and when the South Coast, our new casino opened I was out there working and trying to help people -- because that's what I've done my whole life.
"I've got too much pride in what I've done to just turn around and say goodbye to that -- and so I'd love to take the Orleans Racing team Nextel Cup racing."
Gaughan was sure of one thing when asked when that might occur.
"I don't know if I'm ready to answer that one, yet," Gaughan said with a laugh. "I have personal goals that may differ from Michael Gaughan's personal goals, and in the end Michael Gaughan's personal goals take precedence.
"I have goals for it to happen relatively quickly, and I think even my dad has goals to make it happen, but in the end I can't even fathom doing Nextel Cup racing if we can't even win in the Craftsman Truck Series.
"We've got to start here, and if we start winning in the Craftsman Truck Series, then we'll see if we're ready to move up."