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Gaughan finishes first in loyalty

To know Brendan Gaughan, you have to know about those six guys who were out of work in 2007. Some with wives and children and mortgages.

You have to know about the telephone conversation he had with Tom Mitchell when the NASCAR trucks owner telephoned Gaughan about joining his Circle Bar Racing team based in Charlotte, N.C.

"I told him, 'Mr. Mitchell, you need to understand that I come with some baggage,' " Gaughan said. "He laughed, but it wasn't the kind of baggage he thought with me. I told him I had six guys out of work who needed jobs making the same amount of money they were in Las Vegas. He told me if I stopped talking we could get on with it. Done deal.

"It's important to do right by people, to try and live the right way. You always first take care of your people. Daddy taught me that."

Brendan Gaughan is in a good place now. A happy one. The competitive fire burns like never before, and while his mouth still can get him in trouble at age 33, his brain has learned to process a tad longer before he speaks.

Maturity does that for most. So does adversity. Riches don't assure dark times never will touch you. Often, such fortune guarantees it. Gaughan knows this truth.

He will drive the No. 62 car for Rusty Wallace Racing in the Nationwide event Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track on which the Las Vegas native surely has driven more laps than anyone here this week.

Gaughan sits eighth in points after the season's first two Nationwide races, which includes a ninth-place finish at Fontana, Calif., last week. Two winters ago, he thought his time taking corners at ridiculous speeds (legally, at least) was finished.

He is in a place perhaps not thought possible when his father closed South Point Racing. Michael Gaughan began the local endeavor to help advance his son's racing career, and the casino owner kept things going for more than eight years. A deal to merge with another team fell through, and that was it.

"One of the most difficult times of my life," Brendan Gaughan called it. "A lot of deep personal stuff happening with my family. Dark days. But what Tom Mitchell and (Circle Bar driver) Rick Crawford did for me ... I'll never forget it. They stepped up like few do in this life for another. We didn't run as well as we would have liked (in 2008), but I'll never forget what the opportunity meant."

The term rookie and Gaughan mix like soda and a laptop keyboard, because while this is his first season racing Nationwide full time, you are talking about a guy who spent a year in the Cup series and had eight wins and 46 top-10 finishes in trucks.

He knows where the gas pedal is.

But more than proving he could make it in NASCAR, Gaughan has been dogged by the perception that his racing success owes more to his father's wealth and influence than his own talent. It's a shadow many will never allow him to escape, so he hardly bothers trying.

Gaughan instead puts his trust and loyalty and love into those closest to him. His wife. His family. His college basketball coach (John Thompson) at Georgetown. His new owner and all members of the Wallace team.

"I have always said money doesn't drive a race car," Gaughan said. "It has never made one lap. People don't think I deserve this because of who I am. I can deal with that. My daddy helped me a lot, and I'm honored he did. But I also feel like I've earned a lot of it.

"If I can do right by my family and those I work with, if my two older brothers, my heroes, can walk around Las Vegas without me embarrassing them, if I can bend over backward and do everything in my power to win races and bring Rusty Wallace a championship, that's all I want."

To know the Gaughan way, you need to sit in an office out in an industrial park adjacent to the speedway and hear the story of Harley Rauch, otherwise known as Employee No. 1 from when the shop opened in 1999.

It's the story about a guy whom Gaughan -- then a self-described "spoiled little kid at 25" -- wanted to fire because he made the same mistake twice during races and for being all-around lazy. The guy who was instead assigned to NASCAR hell -- aka show car duty -- before turning his attitude and learning every facet of a mechanic's trade.

That guy, Rauch, to this day is Brendan's front-tire changer, and he's a guy Michael Gaughan did this for: When agreeing to sponsor a handful of Nationwide races for a Wallace team with his son behind the wheel, he told the car owner: "Rusty, I'll do it on two conditions. You can fire the driver, but you can't fire Harley Rauch."

Brendan Gaughan has a lot of his daddy in him this way. If you're going to be rich in anything, loyalty is a real good start.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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