Rookie season has certainly been rough, but fun as well

by Brendan Gaughan

Here we are in mid-October with only five races remaining. This year has flown by and while it has been rough at times, I wouldnít give up the experiences I have had. From multiple appearances on behalf of my sponsors to walking the red carpet in Hollywood, it has been a busy and fun year Ė at times.

In early January, when I returned from visiting the troops in Iraq on behalf of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, I knew everything was about to break loose. I took my Orleans Racing helmet with me to Iraq because there was a strong chance I would be testing with my new Penske-Jasper Racing team at Daytona the day after I returned.

Having my helmet with me turned out to be a good thing. Not only did I have a very important part of my racing gear with me for my return to the States, I have a memento from Iraq that can never be replaced, because I asked the troops to sign my helmet. They found this humorous because, as they put it, "they were nobody."

Well, those nobodies are my heroes because of their personal sacrifice. They were very generous with their time despite having to remain focused on their jobs. I did my best not to distract them while making my appreciation for their time known.

Most weeks, and I am sure this is true for most, if not all, NASCAR Nextel Cup Series drivers, I have something to do for sponsors, whether it is Jasper Engines and Transmissions or Kodak. In the truck series in 2002, my sponsor kept me busy with more than 100 appearances. Obviously, with 36 races, 38 if you count the non-points events, it would be a little more difficult to get that many appearances in, but dang if we havenít given it a run this year.

With more than 50 sponsor appearances and 18 tests to date, I have been pretty busy. Those numbers donít include trackside hospitalities or autograph sessions. I have missed only one weekend on the trackside souvenir trailer, and that was Indianapolis. I planned to be there, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials set the hours for the vendors at that track and the only time I could have made it to the trailer was the closing hour on Saturday.

I guess the point to all my rambling is that while this year has been busy, it has been fun. Dealing with the fans has been great, for the most part. While most fans understand the track is our office, some still think we are there solely to supply autographs. As drivers, we stop when we can. Yes, there are drivers who no longer stop to sign. It is hard to say no, but we have jobs to do. Fans come see us because of the jobs we do, so there is a big circle.

In CART, fans are not allowed to ask for autographs in the garage. Years ago, I remember seeing a slip of paper, it was about half of a standard sheet and it was bright yellow so it could not be missed. This paper was given to the folks who were lucky enough to gain access to the CART contendersí "office." It stated that by gaining access, the entrant was not to request autographs from the drivers since it was a work area, not an autograph session.

I know some will think it is different in NASCAR because this is how the sport has become so popular, because the drivers are so accessible. The appreciation and understanding a fan offers to the drivers is what makes us want to be accessible. Think of it this way. Letís say I decide to walk into your office, plant, worksite, etc., one day and start a conversation with you while you are focused on your jobís duties. Donít get upset with me when I encourage you to stick around instead of heading to the next scheduled item on your task list. I mean, I just want some of your time.

However, I can promise you this. I will not curse you because you had something else to take care of. I would understand that I ventured into your life and appreciate the time you could offer.

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