Orleans Racing 2006 Season Wrap
While the 2006 Craftsman Truck Series season didn’t treat the Orleans Racing team as well as it could have the glimmers of greatness always kept the team digging. In the end it wasn’t Brendan Gaughan’s 15th place finish in the points that mattered, rather it was his second place finish in the season finale at Homestead, Fla. that proved a year’s worth of hard work had paid dividends.
“I’ve said a couple times in 2006 that I don’t envy Robert Yates,” said driver / co-owner of Orleans Racing, Brendan Gaughan. “He’s got a tough task ahead of him and rebuilding a once great race team can be more difficult than starting from scratch.
“This team has spent a couple years now getting things straightened out,” Gaughan continued. “Tony Liberati did a fantastic job this year of getting our chassis and all the big stuff going in the right direction. Now we have the last little part to fine tune, which is even harder. Now it gets put in the hands of Bryan Berry to make sure that we don’t have springs that get caught on the spring bucket and the shocks have Schrader valves that leak and cowls that get air in the correct way.”
The 2006 season offered the Orleans Team more ups and downs than one of the elevators in the Gaughan family owned South Point Casino. Starting at Daytona things looked bright for Gaughan and his boys --- right up until a late race incident dashed the hopes of a top10 finish. Things went from bad to worse when an expired motor in the next event led Gaughan to his worst finish of the season. The next nine races offered little shelter from the storm --- with the exception of the Martinsville race, where Gaughan, who claims to ‘hate’ short tracks finished sixth.
Arguably the darkest day for the team occurred at Michigan International Speedway, in June. That was the weekend where no matter what fixes were tossed at the No. 77 Dodge the truck would not respond positively.
“The real low point of the season had to be at Michigan where I couldn’t figure out what we could do to fix that truck,” Gaughan said reflectively. “Nothing worked. It had a bad vibration and everything was looking bad. I actually walked into the garage ready to retire and ready to say, ‘I can’t do it any more.’ I grabbed my good friend Robby Gordon, who was in between running his Cup car at practice, and I asked him to come drive my Dodge race truck when he doesn’t drive a Dodge.
“Robby went out during our second practice session and came in and said, ‘Whoa, big problems. It had vibrations.’ He gave us some suggestions on what to do. The boys sat down and fixed it. Tony Liberati got me up on the horse and slapped me around a little bit. And by the end of the day it was a top-10 truck. Of course we didn’t finish there (finished 16th) after I hit the wall with a few laps to go, but it was a good truck until that happened. That was a low point that ended on a high point. But having to ask Robby to bail me out of trouble was probably the low part of the season where we all went, ‘Man, what the hell’s going on?’”
The funk the team was dealing with lifted for several races when a fourth place finish at Kansas was followed up with a third at Kentucky. Rewards were realized again at Nashville, where a fifth place run provided fuel for the season’s closing run.
As the summer ended so did the good runs and the team returned to its mid-pack performances. Things began to turn around in earnest when the final three races showed that there had been lessons learned. What started as a great run at Texas was derailed when a spring popped out of its bucket. What started as a decent run at Phoenix was derailed when a Schrader valve backed out of a shock. Those gremlins however were silenced at Homestead where Gaughan and team put on a masterful performance that led to a second place finish.
Capturing the essence of the 2006 season Gaughan offered, “My mother called me after the Homestead race because she couldn’t make it, which is rare for her because she normally makes most races. She called me on the phone and asked me if it felt better to have a really, really bad season end on a high note or have a really great season end on an absolutely horrible note, referring back to the 2003 season. Only my mother would ask that question. I said, ‘Mom, how about we have a great season next year and end on a great note?’ That would probably be the best answer because I don’t like either of the two alternatives.
“It did feel good to finally go out there and run with Roush Racing and I could go out there and run with Mark Martin. It really felt good. We picked out a few more weaknesses that we have and those are the small things that we’ve got to fix for 2007. So I’m really excited going forward.”
Describing some of the changes taking place with the team during the off-season Gaughan said, “Looking forward to ’07, Bryan Berry is going to be at the reins and it’s his job to use those pieces and get people in place. Tom Buzze is the General Manager and Tom’s job is to run this team like a real damn race team. We’re going through budgets. We’re working on finally sitting down and saying, ‘Here’s what office stuff that we’re not doing right. Here’s what marketing stuff we don’t do right. Here’s what accounting stuff we don’t right.’ We just want to clean up the office side of this team now and let Bryan Berry get this team winning races since we feel we’ve gotten back to that level.
“We’ve got a lot of work still to do but hopefully it will be stuff that the fans don’t see and all they’ll see is how good our race trucks are next year and watch us go back and win a bunch of races.”
Off Track Highlights!
Throughout the years Brendan Gaughan has done hundreds of appearances, given hundreds of talks and greeted thousands of fans. But 2006 offered the Las Vegas native two unique and fun opportunities. The first came at Bristol Motor Speedway where Gaughan gave a talk to the local business community. The other came courtesy of Roanoke, TX., where Gaughan was presented the key to the city.
“This year was really neat,” Gaughan began with a smile. “I’m 31 years old now so I’m not in the Young Gun category any more. We run this race team in Las Vegas and I’ve done a few things in my life like getting my business degree in college and getting involved in businesses in Las Vegas. So we got asked to do more business associated things this year. It was really neat for me. Usually I get to go to a high school or a grade school or a sponsor thing and it’s just kind of fun and we talk about racing.
“This year we went to a Rotary luncheon in Bristol and I was the keynote speaker for a business oriented deal and that was new to me. It was really neat because for the first time I couldn’t just go in and talk about racing. I had to talk about economics and the value of NASCAR and the difficulties of running a race team. It was my first one ever and I really, really felt nervous because a good friend of ours, Kevin Triplett - who used to be big in NASCAR and is now big in the political scene – asked us to do it and I really wanted to do a good job for him. I walked into this room full of the leading businessmen in Bristol, VA. – doctors and lawyers and hotel owners and restaurant owners. I thought, ‘Wow, I guess I can’t talk about how good the race was last week.’ I thought I did very poorly but they said they all enjoyed it and I did a good job.”
Lightning struck again for Gaughan in this new realm of public speaking when he was asked to address a group of Mayors in Texas.
“We went to a Mayor’s meeting in Roanoke, TX,” explained Gaughan. “All the mayors from these counties around Dallas/Ft. Worth have periodic meetings and there were 14 mayors. I gave a speech to them addressing business and economics and those aspects of racing. It was really neat because it broadened what I’ve been doing. Maybe someday when this race team is successful and winning business awards I’ll be able to give a little bit better speech.
“Mayor Gierisch is the mayor of Roanoke,” Gaughan continued. “He’s a NAPA store owner and former NAPA associate of ours and a really big supporter of the team. He gave me the key to the City of Roanoke and that was a really neat deal. We’ve gotten plaques and racing stuff but that was the first business affiliated thing that I’ve ever received. So that was really neat. The team always stays in Roanoke County and in his little district there’s a really nice Comfort Inn Suites where we stay and two great restaurants where the whole team eats. So if I can give the revenue of the sales tax to Mayor Gierisch, he gave me the key to the city, man and I’m going to use it. We’re staying there every year.”
2006 Orleans Racing Stats:
Top-five finishes ---- 4
Top-10 finishes ---- 5
Number of trucks Gaughan passed in 2006 --- 1,100 (series high)
Top finishing Dodge.
Money Won $330,638
Wix Filters Lap Leader Award --- 1
Mobile 1 Command Performance Award -- 1