Gaughan enjoys challenge of Gateway
He calls it a 'pure driver's race track'
BY NORM SANDERS
Brendan Gaughan still isn't sure which is tougher -- guarding future NBA star Allen Iverson in college or negotiating the ultra-tight Turn 2 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison.
Gaughan and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will visit Gateway on Saturday for the Dodge Tough 200.
"Look at how tight (Turn) 2 is and you can't get a feel for it unless you really go on the track," said Gaughan, driver of the No. 77 Orleans Dodge. "By the time you get into 1, if you turn your head you've missed it.
"If you have not looked through turn 1 and 2 by the time you get there, you're gone. When you come off, physics only goes so far. The tire does not want to grip."
One of the 31-year-old Gaughan's jobs as a basketball player at Georgetown from 1993-97 was guarding Iverson in practice.
A 5-foot-9, 190-pound bundle of energy who also was an all-conference kicker for the Georgetown football team, Gaughan still revels in his college days.
"On the basketball court, (Iverson) hated me. That was my job," said Gaughan, who had St. Louisan Jahidi White as one of his Georgetown roommates. "Off the basketball court, I'm honored to say that he's a friend and he's a great young man. Until you walk a mile in a man's shoes, you can't really understand him."
The same could be set about Gateway and its tight first two turns.
"This track to me is very similar to Darlington in a sense that this is a pure driver's race track," Gaughan said. "The crew chief can only set your race car up for one corner, which one do you choose? The driver has to make up for what the crew chief can't set up here."
As a result, Gaughan and his crew have tried to buck traditional strategy.
"Everybody sets up for three and four, because it comes to the finish line, it's a bigger corner," he said. "But the flatter the corner, the more the driver can do some dancing and driving."
"So we always set up for 1 and 2 because 1 and 2 are so technically tough."
"You're 160 to 170 miles an hour by the end of the front straightaway," Gaughan said. "You grab the brakes, downshift it and try to keep that thing on the bottom to try to get off of (Turn) 2 without tearing down the wall."
Gaughan, the son of Chief Executive Officer of Coast Casinos Michael Gaughan, has experienced many levels of racing.
In 2004 he spent a year in the popular Nextel Cup Series driving the No. 77 Kodak Dodge for Penske Racing. Gaughan had one top five finish and four top 10s, but returned to trucks the following year.
"If you don't learn from any experience, then you're a fool," Gaughan said. "I got to do a lot of great things there."
His best truck season was 2003, when he picked up six wins and finished in the top five 14 times in 25 races on the way to a fourth-place finish in the points standings.
Gaughan said the Las Vegas-based Orleans Racing team is better now because of the better continuity in the garage, in the pits and on the track.
The crew chief is Tony "Rambo" Liberati and Tom Buzze is the shop foreman.
One of Gaughan's most satisfying races this season was at Atlanta. After starting 33rd, Gaughan finished 13th by passing a total of 78 cars during the race.
He also went from starting 32nd at Martinsville to a sixth-place finish.
Gaughan's family owns the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, so he always drives with the Queen's logo while visiting Gateway. The track was the scene of one of his favorite truck race victories in 2003, when he edged Jason Leffler by 0.22 seconds at the finish line.
"When we come here, we like to be able to say this is like Vegas for us," said Gaughan, who won a battle with his crew chief that year and the strategy paid off. "We shifted both corners, the only team I've ever hear of that shifted in both (turn) 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.
"We shifted both straightaways and both corners and we destroyed them. We dominated that race."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.