Turnin' 10 with Brendan Gaughan
by Joe Zydlo and Sadat Enge
Since his high school days it has been racing. It should come as no surprise, since his father ran desert races in Las Vegas even before Brendan was put on this earth. He played every sport you could play but decided that racing is what he wanted to do for a living. Gaughan also has a couple of different fallback plans when he does decide to stop racing, including a family run Gaming business, a Georgetown University education and most certainly television opportunities thanks to an infectious personality.
As Gateway celebrates its 10th Anniversary season we sat down to talk with the 2003 Ram Tough 200 winner Brendan Gaughan. He comes into this year’s race with confidence, a recent 6th place finish at Martinsville and whole lot of energy.
GIR Online: You had a good run at Martinsville which led to your highest finish this season - 6th place – talk about that run?
BG: “We are proud about that run and the run in Atlanta the week before. The NASCAR scoring said we past 78 racecars in Atlanta starting 33rd and finishing 13th. Last week at Martinsville, where I am notoriously not a short track racer, I started 32nd and finished 6th. For our race team, at this stage where we are trying to get back on top, that was even more than the doctor could ask for and we were pretty fired up about that. We got out of there in one piece, with one little piece of damage to the race truck. I missed a wreck and got cut on the right fender but other than that the truck didn’t have a doughnut on it.
So I passed all those cars without having to move anybody and without having to get aggressive.”
GIR Online: Through the first four races of the season talk about your performance –good things, the things you want to improve upon, etc.
BG: “Some of the great things are, we are the top Dodge in the Truck Series standings. At Daytona with four laps to go we were in fifth. In California we were the top qualifying Dodge at 15th, and at Atlanta and Martinsville we were the top Dodge to finish. Unfortunately Kevin Courier builds my race engines and he built the one that we won here with in 2003. In fifteen years of him building my motors I can count on two hands the number of engines I’ve lost in a race. In California we lost an engine in fifteen laps and I didn’t care about that one. This is racing and things like that happen. We got out of that and we were fine. However at Daytona we were a little bit more bummed out. We were patient, did everything we wanted and then got wrecked in the end. However we were right where we needed to be. We proved to ourselves that we can be a smart team and we did the right things. In Atlanta we proved that to ourselves again. We were patient, we didn’t think we were going to be that good and we drove right to the front. Had a problem on a pit stop, went to the back but got back to the front. We were patient every time. We didn’t get over our heads and we didn’t do stupid things and we came from 32nd to 6th in Martinsville if I wasn’t patient we never would’ve made it there. So we are very patient and not panicking. We looked to be on the road to getting back to the old team.”
GIR On-line: Last year was a tough one for you returning to the Truck Series – was their an adjustment period going from Cup back to the Trucks?
BG: “Last year was a difficult year but I wouldn’t call it a re-adjustment period. Last year was supposed to be about Steve Park for the Orleans Racing team and then I came home and kind of threw a wrench into things. I was joking on an interview earlier today that 2005 made me feel like a spoiled brat who graduated college and his parents sent him to Europe for a year. That was like my Europe year. I came to Gateway and I had a full beard. Later in the year at Dover I put cornrows in my hair. I had the long hair going all last year and that was basically my Europe year. It was to try to get me to feel good about things again. The boys worked hard and maybe I didn’t do all the right things that I needed to do. I’m now glad we took that year. Even though it was a good year I still tried to have fun. I remembered what it was about and now it’s time to get back to business and have fun.”
GIR On-line: This series has always produced what some have called ‘racing the way it used to be.’ Talk about how competitive the series is and the brand of racing.
BG: “There’s nothing like it in racing right now. The Busch Series has lost a lot of luster. There’s no place that you can find true rookie’s like Boston Reid racing with former NEXTEL Cup stars. Look at what the series has become in 10 short years. It’s gone from being halftime breaks, and maybe this might turn into something, to we are going to replace the Busch Series in popularity. You are also going to see us more with Busch racing because we look so different and we are different racecars. This makes it so much more fun for a fan to watch. We beat on each other, we bang on each other and we come to places like Gateway and go two wide in turn 2. You got that kid that tried to pass Mark Martin to prove something, and you got Mark Martin saying with 25 races a year this is cake. It’s a great mix of racing right now that you can’t find anywhere else in racing. I think the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is going to be popular for many years to come because of it.”
GIR On-line: In 2003 you notched the closest win in Gateway history (.222 seconds) over Jason Leffler. How memorable was that win, not only for your team getting the win, but also with the sponsor ties with Casino Queen?
BG: “It was great. At that time we were still an underdog. We had only won at Texas and maybe there was some doubt. We came here and dominated and led the most laps. I didn’t know we let Jason Leffler get that close that day. We felt like we had kicked some butt. It was so good that people accused us of cheating! That is when you know you have done something, when you have rattled their cages. Then we went on to win at Milwaukee and Michigan and people started to say, ‘whoa wait a minute, maybe there is something to this’. But it all started at Gateway. We had the Casino Queen colors on the truck. Heck, I see some of those pictures here in the lobby (at Gateway). It was a great deal for us. There even is a great picture in our race shop of the Casino Queen Truck going into Turn 4 underneath the Casino Queen billboard. We consider Gateway a home track like Las Vegas because of the Casino Queen. Also, it means something because it was my first win other than at Texas. I remember it so well because I was dating Robby Gordon’s sister Becky at the time and she we celebrated the win after the race, but then she and a friend had to drive all night to get me to Bristol the next day so I could teach at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. We pulled in at 9 AM and I jumped into a Petty car. It was really neat to leave a great experience (the win) and get into a car and teach and tell people, ‘I raced last night and won at Gateway’. I’ll never forget it.”
GIR On-line: How do you prepare for a track like Gateway?
BG: “Two diabolically different sets of turns. The closest thing to 3 and 4 is Milwaukee. Flat, wide arching - a really driver-oriented turn. It’s an art to get through 3 and 4. Then Turns 1 and 2….there is nothing like it. Closest thing is maybe Phoenix’s Turns 1 and 2, but at their track it opens up so much. Drivers and crew chiefs differ, but this is a place where you can’t be different in both corners. You have to pick one (to be great), and just be good in the other. Most people pick Turns 3 and 4 – going to the finish line and make the pass. I am of the opposite opinion. I think you have to set up for Turns 1 and 2. It is so slow and tight, and so much braking. Then let the driver make up the difference in Turns 3 and 4. And it has worked for us as we have had good runs in the past. This is the one track where I wish we were still allowed to shift because it made this track so much more fun when you could the RPM’s up and going. We’ll see how it goes this year without shifting again, but man I wish we still could shift.”
GIR On-line: You were quite an athlete in college at Georgetown playing football and basketball. Talk about your experiences there and how did you get on both squads?
BG: “I was a football player (running back, wide receiver and an All-State kicker) that was offered a lot of scholarships when I was in high school. But like a lot of athletes I got hurt and lost most of them. I was really planning on doing much. I applied to Georgetown and wasn’t planning on getting in until the summer when the football coach called me. He said heard I wasn’t a bad football player and that I had applied to the school. I told I him didn’t think I could play much anymore. He disagreed and told me they had just moved up from Division III to Division 1-AA. So I went out and joined the football team as, unfortunately, a fieldgoal kicker (goes on a rant about how he hates kickers). I was an All-Conference player my freshman year. Then in my junior year I had conflicts with racing and playing on the basketball team so that was the end of that. I joked with the football coach that I had gotten kicked off the team.”
“On the basketball side Coach (John) Thompson was down to nine players my freshman year due to injuries. It was February and they needed an athlete. Someone who just goes in and does whatever is asked. You can go to any school and pick up players that are basketball players but don’t necessarily follow the team concept, or they sulk that they are not playing. I was an athlete that was a body, and he was looking for certain things in that body. A body that would do what he was told. And that was me. Whatever Coach Thompson said, I did. I didn’t ask any questions. I just did what I was told when I was told and just enjoyed my collegiate experience. I played with Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) and local product Jahidi White, I have two Big East Championship Rings, Two NCAA Sweet Sixteen’s, a Final Eight. I really had a great time.”
GIR On-line: You played for a famed basketball coach in John Thompson. What was that experience like and what did you learn from him?
BG: “I am a fortunate individual. I have had some great men in my life. My father is one of them. John Thompson is really the one who shaped the boy into a man. I have as much respect for him as I do my father. They are on the same level in my book and there aren’t many people in this world that I think as highly of as John Thompson. The stuff he did for the young men he had play basketball for him is well documented. However, what he did in the lives of the men and women he helped raise and be around is phenomenal. Just a great man. Every day of my life I remember the things he taught me and live my life based on 90% of the things he taught me. Everything I do in racing has influences from him.”
GIR Online: When did you start to show an interest in racing?
BG: “My father was a racer since 1969 – before I was born. He drove in the famous off-road races you may have heard of like the Baja 1000. Growing up I was this little desert rat. Mom would pack up my big brothers, my little sister and me and we would go in a motorhome and park in the middle of the desert. The famous Mint 400 – it was four 100-mile laps. We would give Dad a kiss goodbye and cheer him on as he went racing. About two hours later Mom would go, ‘Here comes Dad’ and you would run out to the side of a desert race course and (makes a humming sound) he would go right past us there went Dad for another two hours and you would play in the dirt all day. I always enjoyed watching my Dad race. When I got older he got injured and so I started driving. But I was not one of those kids who had parents that were trying to make me into the next ‘phenom’. I played basketball, football, volleyball, bowling, racing, etc. You name it and I played it. It wasn’t something that was put into my head by my parents.”
GIR Online: What is it like being a part of the family business (Orleans Hotel and Gaming) with your father Michael. Is there any added pressure you put on yourself?
BG: “I love the Gaming business. It is what my grandfather and father have both done all their lives and still do to this day. It is what my brothers do and I will be always be in it too. I have always been fascinated by the Gaming business. Fortunately, I race cars. I always tell my brothers that I am trying to take the money that they are earning and I go race with it. ‘Thanks brothers, (smooch) love you.’ Right now I am trying to race. My Dad and I are partners, I am the sweat equity and he is the capital equity. Capital equity always wins out over sweat equity in case you are wondering. But it is great because Dad has been a racer his whole life. Whether I was racing or not the Orleans Racing Team would still be there. It is neat to be able to say that my father is a racer and I get to drive with him. It is a special relationship there. Special headaches, special problems, but a very special relationship.”