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Brendan Gaughan Brings Hoya Spirit to NASCAR

by Jeremy Lundblad

Have you ever heard something that just didnít seem to add up, so you had to check it out for yourself? Maybe when you first heard that Dennis Miller was a Republican. Or that time someone told you that Nashville has a professional hockey team. Did you know that until two weeks ago CBS was still airing new episodes of "Becker"? Until you witness this stuff first hand, it seems too bizarre to take someoneís word for it. Thatís how I feel about this weekend.

Admit it, when you first heard that a NASCAR driver went to Georgetown, you figured that someone had confused us with the school that shares our name in Georgetown, Ky. Graduates of this institution go on to be politicians, CIA directors, basketball players and maybe some other jobs along the way. Not Brendan Gaughan. On Sunday, he will be driving the Kodak-sponsored #77 Dodge in the Daytona 500.

Gaughan graduated from Georgetown in 1997 with a management degree. While he was here, he served as the football teamís kicker for two years. He walked on to the basketball team when Allen Iverson still wore a Hoyas jersey, and made it deep into the NCAA tournament. Not exactly the typical pedigree for a NASCAR driver.

To the casual observer, Coach Esherickís Earnhardt-like moustache provides the only link between the Hilltop and the professional racing circuit. But Gaughan has changed that. He dominated the Craftsman Truck Series for the past two years. In 2002 he was the circuitís top rookie. Last year, only a late-season crash kept him from the overall title. Now he has been invited to race with the big boys in the smaller cars. One of the favorites for Rookie of the Year, he has added an entirely new element to the Nextel Cup series: a Georgetown degree. You donít have to look hard to find a mention of his Hoya background. He routinely sports Georgetown clothing when not hawking the labels of his various sponsors. You wonít find many articles written about him that donít at least mention his experience guarding Iverson in practice or the tutelage of John Thompson.

If youíre like me, you havenít quite figured out this NASCAR craze quite yet. The idea of dozens of cars turning left for hundreds of laps just doesnít do it for me. Iíve glanced at it while flipping channels perhaps intrigued at the possibility of an accident, but nothing substantial. While I could quote Days of Thunder ad nauseam, my knowledge of the real thing doesnít go much beyond ESPN highlights that I watch while waiting for them to get to the good stuff. Itís not just me, either. I donít know anyone on campus who watches auto racing. Yet it is the fastest growing sport in the country.

There must be more to NASCAR than mullets, motors and mustaches. In fact, by my count there are only two drivers still rocking the old school ístache: Terry Labonte and Derrike Cope. (In an unrelated story, Gillette recently inked a $20 million sponsorship deal with NASCAR.) From the art of the pit stop to the controversy-ridden restrictor plates, the technology and skill that goes into every racecar is astonishing. Gaughan, along with the likes of Ryan Newman, represents a new era of racing as the sport continues to accelerate into the mainstream.

So why not give NASCAR a chance on Sunday? February is perhaps the worst month for televised sports. Football is over and pitchers and catchers donít report for duty for another week. Hockey and basketball are crawling along until people actually start paying attention to the playoffs. There will be just as many Hoyas in the NBA All-Star game as in the Daytona 500, but that isnít until Sunday night. We have to wait just a little longer to cheer against Duke in March Madness.

Gaughan is certainly making the most of his February. After getting back from a New Yearís trip to visit soldiers in Iraq, his focus returned to racing. Earlier in the month, he solidified a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Driving at an average pace of nearly 150 miles per hour, he sped his Dodge to the world record for "fastest production pickup truck." In Thursdayís Gatorade 125, Gaughan placed eighth in his race, the highest of any rookie in either heat, in order to qualify for Sundayís Daytona 500.

So why donít we hear more about this rising star? We routinely brag to our non-Hoya friends that Iverson went here. But when was the last time you saw him reminiscing about his two year cup-of-coffee at Georgetown? Gaughan is proud of his Hoya roots and he deserves more recognition from us.

You donít have to be a NASCAR fan to watch on Sunday, but you shouldnít miss one of our own participating in the "Great American Race." Youíll have to see it to believe it.

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