This exclusive with Brendan Gaughan appeared in the May Hill Country Happenings
The first time I met Brendan Gaughan was June 2013 when he was in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in Texas. It was my first truck series to cover and a press conference was held with him and Joey Coulter, fifteen years his junior. When I asked him what was considered as “old” in truck racing, he grinned and replied, “Me!” To me, mature drivers were more reliable and less apt to do something dumb “to make something happen.” I knew I had found “my” driver. Brendan did well during the race until he spun his tires on the last re-start and settled for 5th place. Our paths crossed again last November when NASCAR was back in North Texas. I was at Brendan’s truck and an inspector was clarifying to me that what I thought was the engine was actually the carburetor. I heard a snicker and turned to find Brendan standing there. Wanting to overshadow my naivety of car parts and knowing he had played basketball at Georgetown, I switched subjects to the hoops. I was defeated there also when Gaughan reminded me about how his Hoyas had taken the “slama” out of my Houston Cougars “jama” in the National Championship in 1984. He did very well in the race with a fourth place finish and ended the season in seventh place for the truck standings. For the year he had thirteen top ten finishes with ten of those in the top five.
I was pleasantly surprised when the announcement came that Gaughan would be driving fulltime in the Nationwide series this year. He was keeping his number 62 and his father’s hotel, South Point in Las Vegas, would be his sponsor. Last month when NASCAR returned to North Texas, I had the opportunity to sit down with Brendan and I learned there’s a lot more to him than his stock car racing. I began the interview with presenting him with my “Phi Slama Jama” tee-shirt from 1984 and a black sharpie. He chuckled as he scribed, “Hoyas AXA … Brendan 62 Gaughan .“ That out of the way, we started our chat. It was like two old friends at a high school reunion.
Growing up in Vegas, his dad, who dirt-raced as a hobby, took Brendan to desert races and the boy was immediately hooked on off-road racing. I asked him, “Have you ever flipped over and thought while airborne… now I’ve really done it!?!” His face lit up. His first rollover was at age fifteen. He not only turned upside down, he did it several times! “I knew, thanks to JC Dean, to get that seatbelt released right away!” Not only was Brendan into racing during his teenage years, he also was an All-American in high school football.
His college years found him at Georgetown University earning a business management degree. Between studies he shared the court with NBA great Allen Iverson when the basketball team made it to the Elite Eight. He also kicked for the Hoyas football team. He was their placekicker and very good … perfection almost every time the ball left his toe. “Almost?” I questioned. “I couldn’t believe it! I missed the last kick of my career!” he groaned. Brendan’s talents don’t end there; he is also certified to teach scuba diving. One of his favorite places to dive is Socorro Island off of Mexico. He showed me a picture of himself with a Manta Ray, an underwater creature which appeared much bigger than him. I cringed. I told him I still had my fear of man-of-war and jelly fish lurking in the gulf at Galveston. He assured me that the Manta Rays are not like that.
As you can see, Gaughan could have gone many directions with a career including working in the family casino business. Instead Brendan followed his passion for racing. How lucky to be making a living doing what you love, not many can. He loves it all – desert riding, dirt tracks, ovals and my passion, the road courses. He even likes the pesky bumps at Texas Motor Speedway at Turn 2 and between Turns 3 and 4 caused by the tunnels under the track. What he doesn’t love are re-paved tracks like Michigan’s. His Crew Chief, Shane Wilson, provides a seamless transition from trucks to cars, as the two worked in tandem last year. According to Brendan, the car is practically the same as the truck with the exception of the position of the windshield. Gaughan’s goal is to bring Richard Childress Racing their second consecutive championship. “Speaking of winning, what about times you have a teammate who is in position to get a win? Do you give them the push which will enable their victory?” I asked. “If I have a good enough car to win, I race to win,” he replied. “You earn respect,” he continued. “There are those out there that don’t have it.” “Any names?” I prodded. He shook his head sideways.
Although Brendan grew up listening to Classic Rock like the Doors thanks to his older brothers, his heart has always been with Classic Country. He also loves “spaghetti westerns” and treasures moments when he can catch Bonanza reruns. Off-season, he enjoys time with his wife Tatum and two boys Michael and William at their home in Vail. He bragged that his son Michael is already quite a skier. Athleticism has carried on to the next generation. In March, Brendan lost one of his biggest supporters. His grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, who was the last of the founding fathers of Las Vegas, passed away at the age of ninety-three. Jackie was buried in true Irish fashion with bagpipes on St. Patrick’s Day. As we got ready to end the interview, I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”