The Frontstretch: Brendan Gaughan Driver Diary: Top 5s, Family Time, And Crazy Schedules by Brendan Gaughan -- Friday June 28, 2013

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The last time you heard from me was right before the Charlotte race. Charlotte was a great weekend for Shane and me. It was the first time we were able to test together at that racetrack, because we had a test day. We got a lot of things with the truck just the way we like. We followed our test plan and things went perfectly in the race. We were actually faster than Kyle (Busch). Kyle is an extremely smart race car driver—I don’t think he gets enough credit for that some days. He knew how to slow my momentum just enough that we came home second.

Then we headed on to Dover and Texas. In Dover, we just got a top 5. It was one of those days where we really had to earn it. We had to drive pretty hard. It wasn’t the best set-up we had, but it worked. We had a couple of good restarts at the end. I love my restarts. So we got a top 5 there.

At Texas, doggone it, we had the fastest truck there. We went to Texas earlier this year and tested. We led a lot of laps, and Ty led the most laps. At RCR, we led 120 out of 140 laps. Oh, man, we were the team to beat. Near the end, we found out that we had a spring rubber fall out after one of our pit stops, when we got back on the track. Those are things you just don’t know about at the time. We made adjustments to try to tighten it back up, but we were never able to tighten it up enough, but we came home with a top 5.

Brendan Gaughan hasn’t won a race yet in 2013, but he’s racking up the top-5 runs.

We had a scary moment in that race. I got grass packed into my grille with about ten laps to go. Everybody is talking about motors right now with Dale Junior and with the Joe Gibbs Toyotas. Everybody is arguing about motors and horsepower and durability. But in that race, my motor ran 320 degrees. We have what’s called a pop-off valve on the radiator, and it popped off at the checkered flag. That basically means you’re done; you’ve pushed water. Unless you come in and fix it, you’re done; you’re not going any further. We made it nine laps with the grille clogged up completely, fast enough to get a top 5, but it was strong enough to live at undeniably insane temperatures. I have to give kudos to the ECR boys. The motor guys never get a good rap—you always hear about the bad rap, because if something blows up, you hear about it. If something goes right, you never do. So, I have to make sure I give them a big shout!

After that, I went to Road America in the No. 21 Nationwide car. We came home 11th. It was a long day; we had a little bit better race car than that. We definitely weren’t able to contend for the win, which bummed Shane and me out, because I love my road racing, and Shane likes calling road races because the strategies are so much fun. We got up to about sixth, then got spun out from behind and came all the way back from 26th to 11th, so we had a decent run back through the field; we just couldn’t eke anything else out of it.

It’s been very good racing lately, though-we have five top 5’s in a row in Trucks and had a good day at Road America—not a great day, but a good day. Life is good!

People think my best track is Texas, but my best track statistically is Kentucky. It’s not so much that I have a secret at Texas, though. The track just fits my style of racing. Shane Wilson got me to like those tracks early in my career. Shane and I were together since 200, through my Winston West Championships and cutting my teeth on the bigger tracks. Shane is the one who got me to drive a certain way and to like a certain feel. It works well because he gives me the feel that I like, and he knows the feel that I like because he invented it. It makes life really easy for both of us. It’s like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus; Jimmie is a great race car driver, but Chad got Jimmie to like what Chad builds. It makes life really easy when Jimmie has a feel and it’s what Chad knows how to build. Shane and I have the same thing. It’s that chemistry and the way we get along like that that makes life really easy.

Normally, the crew chief has to do what the driver likes. But Shane and I started out together so early in my driving career—and his career as a crew chief; we were his first crew chief gig—that he got to have a say in what he wanted and he had the dumb kid who would do whatever he told me to. If Shane told me to go drive it and go do this, I would do it. In the off-road world, I had a crew chief named Randy Anderson who would do the same thing. When I was sixteen years old and he was my crew chief, if he had told me that I could drive a race car through a brick wall, I’d have closed my eyes and driven through the brick wall. When Shane started saying, “You are going to like this, this is how you’re going to drive it, this is what we want,” I said, “OK. This is what we want and this is how I drive it.” He created what I like. Whether I adapted to it or he made what fit me also—which one is the cart, which one’s the horse, which one’s the chicken, which one’s the egg? But for me, it’s what Shane wanted to build, I drove what he wanted, and we were successful with it. So now that we’re back together, he still has that same theory.

With the next races on the schedule being Kentucky, Iowa, and Eldora, you could say that the Truck Series is the most eclectic race series around. When you look at the next three races, that is an awesome analogy. You go to the flat mile-and-a-half, the last of what we used to call the cookie cutter tracks, and now it’s the only one left that’s like it. It’s my favorite mile-and-a-half track. Then you go to Iowa, a Rusty Wallace-designed short track that has a Richmond feel that is one of the finest built facilities in recent memory, and then you go to Tony Stewart’s Eldora. It’s the dirt track of all dirt tracks, and NASCAR is bringing us back to the dirt after 40 years. NASCAR has definitely got a sense of humor when you look at how they scheduled the next three races. I’m proud of them. I just wish they’d add a few more races. I’ve said it before; they need to add a couple more races to the Truck Series to get get back to 25. But if you look at the series that they have put together, with Eldora, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Canada, with the mile-and-a-halfs, Talladega and Daytona, the short tracks that we run—this creates a great driver to go to the next level. The Truck Series definitely gets you ready.

The Cup Series is a different thing. The argument right now is whether there should be a road course in the Chase. I do believe there should be a road course in the Chase. But the argument then becomes, who loses a race date? I don’t think it should be Sonoma or Watkins Glen in the Chase; I think it should be Road America, Montreal, or Laguna Seca…so, who gives up a date? There’s a whole lot that goes into those decisions. You couldn’t take Iowa into Cup; Iowa doesn’t have the facility in terms of grandstand size to be able to fit a Cup race. At Eldora, you definitely couldn’t do a Cup race there. It’s neat, it’s got a quirk to it, but I don’t think you could do that in the Cup Series. I think the Cup schedule is a good mix. It would be awesome if you could add a couple of other things, but there are so many logistics that go into the Cup schedule that I’m glad I’m not NASCAR! I just nod my head and say, I’ll race where they tell me.” I wouldn’t want Mike Helton’s job—I like Mike Helton a lot, but I wouldn’t want his job! It’s like the motor guys; you only hear the bad and you never get the good. Nobody ever says, “Great job on your schedule,” or “great job” on this or that. They say, “man, you suck. Why did you do that?” There is always somebody questioning you. It’s one of those jobs that I don’t want and I would never wish to have!

We worked through most of the most recent CWTS schedule break. I went to the Ron Fellows high performance driving school out in Nevada—I got to go home for that. Chevrolet sent all their Camping World Truck drivers to the high performance school to get some practice in. One fun thing I did was I got to bring my niece, who turned 13 this year, back to North Carolina with me and taught her how to SCUBA dive with the Lake Norman SCUBA group. She is now a PADI-certified junior open-water SCUBA diver. I’ll take her on a trip later this summer with her sister, who I certified a couple of years ago. I brought her to Road America with me, too. I’m big about my nieces and nephews and being a part of their lives and trying to be a good influence on them. I had a guy that I called my uncle who was a very big influence on my life at that age, so I always promised I would do those things. I’m doing that with the oldest two, Emily and Abigail. They have both learned how to SCUBA dive with me and I take them all over wherever I can to go SCUBA diving. In the winter, I try to take them snow skiing. Those are just some things I do to try to stay close with my nieces and nephews.

Crazy Off-Road Story of the Month

I haven’t gotten to do any off road racing since the last time, so I’ll have to pull some older stories out. Have we talked about spending the night off the cliff? Well, in 2003, right after Homestead, I was racing the Baja 100. Normally, it’s the same week as Homestead, but this one year, it happened to be the following week and it worked out that we could race in it. We got in with my buddy Dr. Fellcamp and his son, who asked us to race with them.

About 40 miles into my section, I got into the race car running third or fourth, and I got into the mountains. This truck had a really stupid power steering thing on it. If you’re technical bout it, the power steering was off of the trans-axle. It was really just a bad design. So, we were on these mountain roads and going very slow. When you go slow, there is no power steering, and these have big huge tires and don’t like to turn when there’s no power on them. I slid off the side of a mountain, and just being a foot or so off the mountain, I told my co-driver, the guy riding with me who is also my spotter in NASCAR, The Batman, “I think we can get back on, Batman; we’re not off the cliff yet.”

So I hit the gas and we fall about 20 feet. I was like, “hold on, I think I can do it one more time. I think we can get there.” I tried and we fell another 20 feet. Before he could protest, I did it one more time. So then we were about 80 feet off the side of a cliff that had probably a 20-degree grade. It wasn’t sheer, but another 20 feet below us, it was a sheer cliff for 100 feet. We were 80 feet off the edge, there was no way off. We were stuck. The race car was in one piece, but we were stuck.

While we were waiting for somebody to come get us, we were sleeping in it with our helmets on and our buckles on. The right front tire was about two and a half to three feet above the left rear; that’s how high it was, just all jacked up. A guy came along in the middle of the night, and he had a pick-up truck with a winch on it he was going to try to winch us up this mountain. Batman decided he was out, so he got out of the car, and I was in the car. I am not ashamed to say it, I cried like a little girl. The guy hooked the winch up, and the first thing he did was hook it up incorrectly. Think of a bungee cord; if you hook it one way, the bungee tightens itself, but if you hook it the other way, it unsprings itself. Well, the way he had it at first, it was going to unspring itself. I was not really happy about that move to begin with.

But now, think of a rocket ship. And when a rocket ship is getting up to speed, you’re facing straight up and down. Well, I was on a cliff that was damn near straight up and down. So when he pulled me out, I was looking at stars and the moon. I mean, I was looking straight up. I had both feet on the brake trying to hold the thing, the motor running, and this guy started winching me up. Every time it hit a rock, it went further back and I was looking at more moon and sky. I was screaming at the Batman. I mean, I was crying—crocodile tears, scared to death, crying at the top of my lungs. I just sobbed. Well, he almost pulled the truck off the cliff, so then they had to unhook me while I was pointing straight up and down. I had both feet on the brake pedal, and my foot was shaking so bad I looked like Thumper being twitterpated. Finally, they got me about three feet from the top, and he had to unhook me and hook it to the rear and tow us up. The problem was, I couldn’t get on the road, and I had about 30 feet before it became a sheer cliff around the corner. He was towing me, and I kept sliding back down the cliff. Finally, about ten feet from the end, I just turned it hard right and gassed it. I landed on the other side of the mountain and then bounced back onto the road. As soon as we stopped, I was shaking. Batman came up with the flashlight—he had been standing about 20 feet away with the flashlight asking if I was okay because he didn’t want to get close in case the car fell on him. He jumped in and said, “hey it looks good, are you ready to keep racing?”

It took me a minute to compose myself. I was a little shaken up. But the best part is, we were on that cliff for about seven hours. We were hungry— starving. We finally got out to the highway and found some Mexican truckers. We got some flatbread and an old can of tuna from them, and we devoured it like it was our last meal. Then we drove up the highway and stayed at a hotel that night with some of the guys on our team. We drove the next four hours to the hotel where the team was. Our crew chief said to us, “I bet those burritos came in handy!” We said, “Burritos? What burritos?” He opened up one of the tool bags right behind my head, and there were three carne asada burritos, perfectly in their zip=lock bags, clean, covered with tin foil, ready to be eaten. We were starving; we spent seven hours in the desert. We ran out of water, no food—we were starving…and there were burritos two inches behind my head. I was like, “next time, tell the driver where you hid the burritos!”

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