It was necessity that put two parties together. It was preparation, skill and a little bit of luck that got them the riches.
On the evening of October 6th Dr Bud Feldkamp was facing a pretty serious problem. He was sitting in the drivers’ meeting for the Vegas to Reno desert race and his second driver for the event, his son -- Buddy Feldkamp, was nowhere in sight. After a few calls to find out what was going on with the man who would pilot the final 200 miles of this 500 mile event the senior Feldkamp knew his best laid plans were like a crashed race car --- or just so much junk.
“It was 8:00,” explained Feldkamp on how he came to the realization that his plan was coming apart. “My son was scheduled to race with me. He’s an intern here at the hospital. He’s going through the residency program at the hospital and I was hoping he could get off but the hospital people at the last minute weren’t going to have anything to do with an off-road race. They didn’t care about an off-road race, so he called me and said he couldn’t come. So now the drivers’ meeting is about over with and I’m realizing I might have to drive 500 miles the next day. I was sitting next to a friend of mine and I said, ‘Well, what’s Brendan doing? I ought to give him a call.’”
The Brendan that Feldkamp spoke of was NASCAR racer Brendan Gaughan. Gaughan a desert racer growing up, was having dinner with a friend as Feldkamp began looking for ways out of his unplanned predicament. With no Craftsman Truck race scheduled for the weekend Gaughan’s schedule was pretty much wide open.
“I’ve known Brendan since he was a small boy,” said Feldkamp. “I’ve been friends with his dad (Michael) and I’ve watched him race all these years. So I opened my cell phone and sure enough I had his number.”
Feldkamp had Gaughan’s home number, where Billy Holbrook fielded the call for assistance from Feldkamp. Holbrook would end up as more than a messenger in the 2005 Reno to Vegas race as he was Gaughan’s co-driver for years, long before he ever stood in a NASCAR spotters’ stand where he now guides Gaughan through the perils of asphalt racing.
“I’m at dinner Thursday night (October 6th) with a friend of mine and the phone rings and it’s Billy Holbrook saying, ‘Answer your phone. Dr. Feldkamp is trying to call you,’” said Gaughan of the chain of events that would put him in the seat of a class 15 buggy the following day. “I grabbed the phone and it was Dr. (Bud) Feldkamp. His son Buddy is almost done with his internship but he has another month before he’s fully out and on his own as a doctor and the hospital wouldn’t let him out of rounds Friday night. So he couldn’t make the race. Dr. Feldkamp and his son, Buddy Feldkamp, have been running all year.
“So he called me and the first thing that I reminded him of was the Baja 1000 in 2003 when I drove his racecar off a cliff and did everything but destroy the thing,” Gaughan added sheepishly. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He asked me to show up the next day. Registration was already over and it was way late. I finished dinner and ran home to bed.
“The next morning we went over to Pahrump and had to search to find Casey Folks, who owns the Best in the Desert Racing Series – the sanction that was hosting the event. Late registration was basically over and they had to really, really dig hard to get Billy Holbrook and I in this race. There were 30 seconds before the first car started and Casey Folks got armbands on Billy Holbrook and I. He’s trying to start a racecar and armband us at the same time. It was not one of those perfect situations we talk about for racing.”
The rig that Feldkamp and Gaughan would share the driving duties in was a class 15 buggy. This is a highly developed race vehicle, which is capable of running over Nevada’s rough desert terrain --- and can do so very, very quickly.
“It’s a stream line fabrication,” says Feldkamp of his car. “It’s actually a Penall car but it has a Chevrolet Corvette motor in it. It’s a two-seat formula car that’s prepared by Larry Jacinto Construction. They’ve taken the team over this year, so this is like our fourth race with them. We’re very excited to have our mechanic, Dave, have this win so early on. Again, it’s a two-seat formula car with a Corvette engine.”
Adding his view of the car Gaughan offers, “To those who don’t understand, some might call it a Sand Rail. A really big, fast, expensive one. We call it a Dune Buggy. Class 15. You can have as much suspension as you want and as much motor as you want.
“Dr. Feldkamp has a really, really great setup,” Gaughan continues. “It handled perfectly. It’s got like 20 inches of travel in the front and probably 24 inches of travel in the rear. It’s a big huge shock absorber and there are two shocks per corner. Big coil springs and big two-and-a-half inch diameter shock shaft. You could drop it 50 feet off the top of a building and it would land like you were on a pillow. It’s a really nice ride.”
Feldkamp and his co-driver, Dr Jeff Bartley, took the first 300-mile leg --- a run that would take them from Las Vegas to Mina, NV, where Gaughan and Holbrook were scheduled to take it the final 200 miles, to Reno, NV.
Feldkamp, describing his and Bartley’s lead leg of the trip said, “It was pretty dusty obviously and we started 13th in position. We were behind a couple trucks, which are always difficult to get around. It went pretty smooth up until mile 230 or so when we got a flat tire. I think at that time we had bumped up to about fifth place. We got out and the jack system wasn’t working right, so we ended up doing it all manually. We have the power jack but it wasn’t working right. We were able to get that fixed and then we were down like 20 minutes. A couple of the trucks that we had worked so hard to pass went by us. Now my focus was just to get it to Brendan and get it in a good position to Brendan so he could take it on home.
“I’ve been racing in the desert since 1973, so it was pretty predictable. I didn’t realize there were so many tough, bad roads in the state of Nevada but there are a lot of roads that are really rough.”
As Gaughan and co-driver Holbrook awaited the arrival of Feldkamp and Bartley, Gaughan already had suffered a failure in his racing gear --- the wiring of the in-car intercom system was torn out. The problem meant that the driver and co-driver would be communicating road conditions and directions via hand signals.
“Right before I got in – a rookie off-roader again – I ripped my headphones out and broke the wire,” said Gaughan with a roll of his eyes. “So Billy Holbrook could hear me and Billy could hear everybody talking but I couldn’t hear anybody, which was kind of nice. So Billy was giving me the old fashioned hand signals for left, right, straight, I could talk to him.”
With Gaughan and Holbrook buckled in they roared off towards Reno with a vengeance.
“We didn’t have GPS like most of the guys and we didn’t pre-run any of the race,” said Holbrook of the minor complications that nagged the fill-in team from NASCAR. “Neither one of us had ever run that top end of northern Nevada, so it was all new to us. It was all new ground that we’ve never run before.”
There was one hunk of ground that Gaughan was running up on hard, a spot in the road that could quite literally destroy Feldkamp’s buggy, like it had with several other competitor’s rides that day.
“As we’re running Billy keeps getting relays on where people are and what’s going on,” says Gaughan of his getting the feel for his Class 15 ride. “I don’t get to know. He’s just giving me hand signals telling me ‘big leads’. Nobody’s chasing us and we’re fine.
“We’re going down this power line road with big holes. We’re being conservative. We’re not going real fast. I’m in about fourth gear doing 80 miles per hour and I told Billy on the headset, ‘I’ve either got to slow down and hit the holes or we’ve got to crank it up a little bit and get on top of these things.’ Billy gave me the hand signal for ‘Whatever you want’.
“So I cranked it up a little bit and fortunately I did,” Gaughan continues, his eyes starting to widen. “All of a sudden there was a huge hole, unmarked. In the desert, people that have been fans have heard me say for awhile and it’s the old Robby Gordon theory – ‘when in doubt, gas it out’. I saw this big hole and we were doing about 85 mph and I screamed into my headset, ‘Hold on Billy!’
“I downshift to third and give it full throttle and we hit this hole. The rearend comes up and all we’re looking at is dirt. We almost did an end-over-end flip. It didn’t go end-over-end; it landed. Then we almost barrel rolled because the tail started to swing. Then we almost hit a telephone pole.
“We saved all three things. Everything’s good and we drive away. We kept on digging and slowed down instead of cranking it up another notch though.”
Gaughan made the right call ---- because if he’d slowed down he could well have met the same fate as the team they met just up the road from that unmarked hole.
“We got another five miles up the road and there’s Pat Dean in the pits,” Gaughan said shaking his head. “He had hit the same hole but hit the brakes and ripped his front end off. That put us in the lead and Class 15 is the unlimited buggy class. It’s the big class. It’s the main class.
“I haven’t raced a desert race since 2003 and we’re back in the second biggest race of the year and Holbrook and I are now in the lead in the biggest class. We’re top five overall but we’re not sure where. So Billy and I high-five each other and say, ‘Let’s just be smart.’”
The pairing of Gaughan and Holbrook took it easy the rest of the way to Reno ---- confident that they’d capture the Class 15 victory --- if they didn’t break their buggy.
“Once we knew we were in the lead we kind of just put it in cruise mode,” added Holbrook. “The only problem was we didn’t know exactly how big of a lead we had on the next car. So we didn’t slow down to a crawl but we didn’t overdrive the car either.”
When Gaughan drove Feldkamp’s car over the finish line it captured best in class honors, with over an hour margin on the next best car, and third overall for all the vehicles that started the event.
“It was a very joyous finish line,” said Bud Feldkamp of the spoils of that day’s war. “I’ve never been to a finish line having Brendan there. We hung around there for what must have been a half hour and Brendan was obviously his colorful self. It was just wonderful to share this victory with Brendan and Billy.
“There was a little history. Brendan raced with us before in Baja, two or three years ago and we broke. So this was a chance to kind of show that we can win and that we’re a winning team when we get together.”
“It probably has to rank with one of the best wins I’ve ever had,” said Billy Holbrook of the break in the victory lane drought that he’s endured since 2003. “Obviously just racing with Bud Feldkamp even being associated with him is more than I could ever imagine. But to win with Bud Feldkamp and help him win – I don’t think Bud has won in awhile. So it’s just huge. Plus it’s good for us.
“I think we’ll take that try to take that to the asphalt with us,” added Holbrook smiling. “We haven’t won on the asphalt since 2003 and when you haven’t won in a long time you start wondering. Like I’ve always told everybody, once you win one race they just start coming one after another. Hopefully we’ll have success in the Craftsman Truck Series.”
Asked for his feelings about winning with Feldkamp Gaughan shared a qualifying story on the importance of the victory.
“A long time ago I said something at a NASCAR champion’s banquet to Mike Stefanik and Gary Nelson of all people that I didn’t know who Richie Evans was and after seeing and hearing their reaction to that I promised I would never forget who Richie Evans was,” Gaughan began. “But to the off-road racing world, if I told you the names Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp and you didn’t know who they were, that’s as bad as not knowing who Richie Evans was. So that’s for the guys who thought I was disrespectful to the NASCAR folks. I do know who Richie Evans was but Malcolm Smith and Dr. Feldkamp were the Richie Evans of off-road. They won everything. These guys were famous when I was growing up. They drove sometimes for my dad in the Barbary Coast dune buggy. Other times they drove for themselves. These two guys were unstoppable.
“Dr. Feldkamp drove a perfect race in a great racecar,” continued Gaughan. “He got it to us and we took it to the finish line in great condition. And Billy Holbrook and I can add our list to the names of Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp that we won with them. To us in the desert, that’s a big deal. Remember, I drove for Walker Evans who was the Dale Earnhardt and the Richard Petty of the desert. Richie Evans is that cult hero of NASCAR guys and that’s Malcolm Smith and Bud Feldkamp to us. So that was really cool for us to do that. It was really cool of Casey Folks to let us get in the race.”
The day wasn’t quite yet complete for Gaughan --- who then shared an embarrassing moment that he endured at the finish line.
“The thing I felt bad about was I gave a television interview and I had my Jasper Engines race suit on and my Jasper hat on and I didn’t know any of Dr. Feldkamp’s sponsors,” Gaughan said as he relayed the worst nightmare a racer can have --- or forgetting, or not knowing the sponsors. “I had to turn around and ask him to tell me who the sponsors were. He just got a new one – Larry Jacinto Construction in Muscle Beach, CA. Of course Glen Helen Raceway Park, which is the little short course off-road deal just outside of San Bernardino. So those are his only two sponsors and now I’ve got those down.
“I felt like a goober,” Gaughan added laughing. “Normally I can name my Jasper Engines and my American Racing Wheels and my Dodge and this and that. I’m sitting there going, ‘Hey Doc! Who are your sponsors?’”
Once straight all was forgiven with the sponsor gaffe. Funny how standing in victory lane can make a good many things right with the world.