It had been since Oct. 11, 2003. It had been 294 starts across NASCAR’s top-three divisions. However, after more than 10 years of heart break, Brendan Gaughan finally got what he deserved – a win.
Gaughan, whose family owns the South Point casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been racing in NASCAR’s top-three divisions since he was 21-years-old. Now, 39, Gaughan ended up in the winner’s circle at Road America last weekend.
In an emotional victory, Gaughan expressed his sincere gratitude for those that have stuck by his side since that 2003 win at Texas. Since that time, he has bounced around from team to team. He ran one full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2004, but that didn’t work out. He bounced around the Truck Series, yet after a long journey – Gaughan’s dedication has paid off.
After interviewing him last November, I learned more about Gaughan than I ever thought. Not only did he explain why he still wants to race, but he explained why he wants to end his career with Richard Childress Racing.
“I’m just thankful. I don’t questions why’s or how’s, I just know that I appreciate what Richard has given me. My performance on the track this year (and last year) has at least proven that I can be up front every week and I can go win races in this series and that series (Nationwide). That’s what I’m thankful for. If I can’t win races, I don’t want to be here. We should have won two or three this year, and we will win one. We will go out there and win races next year,” Gaughan told me in our interview.
He had doubts. Why wouldn’t he? When a driver goes through a 10 year win-less streak, they question themselves. However, Gaughan worked through the pain. He did more than beat his competitors on that rainy day at Road America. That day, Gaughan was on top, and all of his doubts went away.
When we spoke on that day in November, Gaughan admitted that he wants to continue to race. He joked about how even though he hadn’t won in 10 years, he was always competing for wins – and that was true. Whether it was in a Nationwide Series car, a truck or in the Cup Series, Gaughan didn’t go a full season without recording a top-five finish. Although he wasn’t always the most competitive driver due to the equipment he was in, Gaughan has always been able to get the most out of his vehicles.
“As soon as it’s proven to me at RCR that I can’t win races, I’m done. Until then, we’re going to keep on driving. It takes a lot to make the series work. I respect the guys that race their heart out and work hard on their race cars day-in and day-out when some days they race and some they park for money,” he said about the possibility of retiring. “I respect them a lot, and it’s hard work doing that. It’s not that they’re any less of a driver or not, they just don’t have the opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity, and if I can’t win, I’ll just go ride off in the sunset.”
Joining RCR has been the blessing he has been looking for. Gaughan dedicated the win to his grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, who passed away at the age of 93 in March – adding to the emotions which were spinning through his head. The father of two boys, he even raced part-time in order to have a better opportunity to raise them – similar to what Sam Hornish Jr. did several years ago and is doing now.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve got a win and it’s been documented greatly by many, many places. It’s one of those things where I always said when I got back to victory lane, I understood the difference between when I was 28-years-old and when I’m 38-years-old, but I appreciate it very much, I appreciate all the words and all the support that fans, friends, people you didn’t know were friends, people that hated you,” he said after his win. “All the kind words have been really over whelming, I’ve taken it all in and appreciate every bit of it. I think the best congratulations I got [though] was from my father [Michael] who reminded me that ‘even a blind squirrel finds a nut some days.”
For a driver with his amazing personality, a victory is nothing shy of bitter sweet.