This column runs in the Spring 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I am writing this column, qualifying for the pole at the Daytona 500 is being televised. So many changes this year; drivers switching teams, younger drivers coming in from other NASCAR tiers and legends racing for their final year. One of my favorites is hanging up his helmet – Brendan Gaughan.
I first “unofficially” met Brendan at a Texas Motor Speedway press conference back in Summer of 2013 when he was racing in the Camping World Truck Series. He was alongside fellow racer twenty-two-year-old Joey Coulter who was fifteen years younger so he kidded about himself being “old” in racing. I raised my hand. “What do you consider old?” I asked. Without skipping a beat, he responded, “Me!” I decided at that moment I had found the truck driver to root for!
Later that year NASCAR came back for the fall races. It was a sunny fall day when I hiked to the parking lot where the truck haulers were lined up providing an outside work area since the Cup and Nationwide cars had the two garages. There was the #62 South Point Hotel and Casino truck; over the driver’s door, the signature Brendan Gaughan. I craned my neck trying to see in the open hood without touching the truck. “Looking for anything in particular?” a familiar voice asked. I turned and it was Brendan. “uhhh… is this where the carburetor is?” I followed it with a laugh and explained that I knew nothing about what’s under a hood!
That night I got to hang at pit row thanks to my media pass. Brendan was doing last minute checks on his truck, then gave his wife Tatum a kiss and she headed to the pit stand pushing one of his sons in a stroller. He looked across and waved hi to me looking quite different in his racing uniform. “Good luck tonight!” I shouted. He finished 4th in the race.
The following spring, I contacted Brendan’s media person to request an interview with him. As a freelancer, I was appreciative of those who were willing to talk to me and there were many who would not grant one-on-one interviews. I explained to her the carburetor story. She said she would check with Brendan and get back to me. Several weeks later, I met Brendan at Fuzzy’s in the TMS Pit. He was now racing a car instead of a truck. I started off assuring him that I wouldn’t ask the typical girl question about how they used the bathroom while racing. Instead I pulled out my University of Houston “Phi Slama Jama” Tee-shirt. My Cougars had lost to the Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA finals in 1984. Brendan played basketball for Georgetown in the 90s. Yes, I had done my homework. He burst out laughing. “Yes, we slama’d your jama!” he confirmed.
We talked about so many other things in addition his racing – his family, being a high school football All-American and a placekicker at Georgetown, scuba diving, skiing at his second home in Colorado, our common love of “The Doors” music and his future employment, helping run the family casino in Las Vegas. I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”
Each season he raced at TMS, we’d exchange “high 5’s” or a hug. He went through many looks – mustache, beard and even a hint of sideburns like his early racing years. One time when Brendan was doing an appearance at the midway, a fan asked him if he participated in Fantasy Racing. Gaughan bragged about his fantasy team and how many fans were with him on Twitter getting advice each week. He pointed to me in the audience. “Just ask Carlotta! She’s on my team!” Yes! I not only had me a driver; he knew me by name!