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Race Car Driver Brendan Gaughan, 30, Las Vegas

By Sonny Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer

If you overheard Brendan Gaughan talking about his life in a bar somewhere, you'd swear he was just spouting off a few lines to pick up women. The 30 year old is the son of a Las Vegas casino czar, has played both college football and basketball and is now in his seventh year as a NASCAR driver.

In the mid-'90s, he played alongside Allen Iverson and under legendary coach John Thompson on the Georgetown basketball team. He was also a placekicker on the Hoyas football team and holds the school record for extra point completion percentage (.975). In 2004, he showcased his driving talents in the elite NASCAR Nextel Cup Series by finishing second in the rookie of the year standings with four top-10 finishes. He now races in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, where he has eight career wins under his belt. From Sin City to the NCAA Tournament to the Daytona 500, Gaughan has shown that he's most comfortable in the fast lane.

What's been your biggest thrill so far in sports?

I raced in the Daytona 500 in 2004, which is one of the biggest sports events in the world -- 200,000 people show up and it's a lot bigger than any football game. I was able to sit there and get those butterflies and go, "Wow, I'm here." Coach Thompson always told me to do two things: Enjoy the moment and then get ready for it. It was amazing. It was everything I think that playing in the NBA would be. I'm there with Roger Penske, who, in the racing world, is like George Steinbrenner of the Yankees. I finished 19th, and I was ecstatic. I thought it was the greatest day ever.

You mention John Thompson. Did your experience at Georgetown helped you behind the wheel?

I have as much respect for Coach Thompson as I do for my father. He is one of the greatest men I've ever had the opportunity in life to meet. He took a little boy and taught him how to be a man, how to handle himself. To this day, 90 percent of the decisions that I make are shaped by the things he taught me or made me do. I'm fortunate that I had him in my life. My dad did a great job, but every son fights with and doesn't believe his dad. But when you have a seven-foot-tall, very intimidating-looking black man talking to you, it was a different world. I would not be where I am today if it weren't for Georgetown University.

If a kid wants to play baseball, he goes out and plays Little League. How do you get started in a racing career?

My father [Michael Gaughan, CEO of Coast Casinos] had a hobby of racing cars in the desert since 1969. There's a thing called the Baja 1000, and I grew up what you would call a desert rat. My older brothers would actually get to ride with him on these four very long laps, but I couldn't because my dad said I had to be able to reach the pedals. Unfortunately, he got into a racing accident before I ever got to.

So you had to do it by yourself?

Yeah. I worked after school at a buddy's racing shop. He had a son my age, and we became partners. We won our first-ever race, and from there on, my dad started supporting me. There's a man named Walker Evans who is a very famous off-road racer. His nickname was "The Legend." I got the opportunity to drive and race off-road cars for him when I was 15.

For those of us who do our competitive driving on the Beltway, tell us what it's like to do it on the highest level.

Wow. I've been doing it for a while now, but you can't possibly underestimate the speed and how quick you have to be to make decisions when you're moving up around 150 miles per hour, on average. Sometimes you'd swear you could actually feel the adrenaline pumping through your body.

You were a role player at Georgetown and now you're striving to be the star. Big difference?

You know, the one thing I learned, is that no matter if it's racing, football or basketball, it's a team sport. At Georgetown, my duty was to worry about practice so that Allen was ready. In racing, now I'm the Allen Iverson. I'm the guy that talks to the media and is in front of the camera -- but it still takes that role player to be successful. I know how happy I was when Jerome Williams or Allen would say something like, "Nice job" or we'd go eat together and all hang out as buddies because I was on the team.

You're 30 years old, have a business management degree from Georgetown, and a father with plenty of influence in the business world. Do you ever think about quitting racing and finding a nice, safe job?

I'm an athlete. That's what I do. I guess I could quit now and go into the hotels and do that, but I'm an athlete and I think of it as an honor, like Othella [Harrington] or Alonzo [Mourning] or anybody else. Do they have to play basketball? No, they have plenty of money now. But it's in my veins. I'm doing what I love to do.

Gaughan will race in the Quaker Steak and Lube 200 on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on the Speed Network.

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