“You know, I asked my uncle once how I’d know when it was time to stop. You know what he said? ‘The youngsters tell you.’” That quote came from the fictional character, Cal Weathers, in Cars 3, the 2017 Pixar movie that despite featuring talking cars, seemed incredibly real.
After all, rare is it when a racecar driver gets to go out on his own. More often than not, the grizzled veteran who seemingly not long ago was the sport’s upstart, is suddenly looking over his shoulder at another 20-something hotshot ready to take his place. These veterans typically fall into two groups – those who are caught off guard and those who hear the music playing and engineer an exit strategy. It’s atypical for a driver to say, “G’Night” on his own timetable and on his own accord.
Brendan Gaughan is that atypical person. The 45-year-old from Las Vegas has been racing in NASCAR since 1997, and before wheeling stock cars around asphalt ovals, he was navigating the silt and sand of off-road racing. He is the grizzled veteran who has been racing all his life, but when the checkered flag falls on the YellaWood 500 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Gaughan will close the chapter on his NASCAR career and enjoy life as a husband, father and part-time off-road racer. Gaughan is the lucky racecar driver going out on his terms.
But Gaughan considered himself lucky long before he embarked on a final, five-race NASCAR Cup Series campaign in 2020 that began with an impressive seventh-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. Luck found Gaughan in 2018 when he joined Beard Motorsports, the modern-day David competing against the Goliaths of the NASCAR Cup Series.
Owned by Mark Beard Sr., president of Beard Motorsports and various family businesses, Beard Motorsports has proven to be the little team that could, forming a strategic partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and focusing on Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and its sister track 500 miles north in Talladega, Alabama. With cars constructed by RCR and powered by ECR engines, Beard Motorsports has scored four top-10 finishes, the most recent of which came Aug. 29 at Daytona when Gaughan finished eighth in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
With one fulltime employee and only two racecars in its entire stable, Beard Motorsports unabashedly slings stones and, more often than not, connects, providing great satisfaction to the family-operated team.
Of Gaughan’s 66 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, 16 have been with Beard Motorsports. He has scored four top-10 finishes with the team, representing half of his career top-10s. Gaughan’s other four top-10s came during his rookie season in 2004 with Team Penske.
“The Beards are people who appreciate this sport, and love just being able to make these races,” Gaughan said. “I remind them all the time that they’re beating Roger Penske, they’re beating Joe Gibbs, they’re beating Rick Hendrick. They’re such great people and their family is awesome – their son Mark and their daughter Amie are such a big part of it – and I enjoy being with these people and seeing what we accomplish as a David versus the Goliaths.”
The feeling between Gaughan and the Beard family is mutual. Together, they carried the fun factor that powered each of them to go racing in the first place to the elite NASCAR Cup Series, where the pressure to perform can make fun fleeting.
The gregarious Gaughan and the hard-working Beards have enjoyed the fruits of their labor, and they have one more go-round to savor their racing utopia. The YellaWood 500 at Talladega marks the culmination of their work together, and as strongly as they believe in each other, they believe that they can win. It would be a send-off for the ages and it’s completely plausible as Brendan is #NotGaughanYet.
The YellaWood 500 starts at 2 p.m. EDT on Sunday with live coverage provided by NBC and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.