Brendan Gaughn has rolled the dice this season, turning his Las Vegas-based NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team into a race winner and division title contender. Betting on making it big in NASCAR, however, is nothing new for Gaughn, who has been involved in big-stakes gaming all his life.
Weekly Front-Runner"My family business might seem unusual to most people, but it's normal for me," says Gaughn, the son of Michael Gaughn, one of the biggest casino and gaming personalities in Las Vegas. "My grandfather, Jackie Gaughn, moved to Vegas in 1948, and we've been there ever since. A casino is just like any other business. It's a place where people gamble, but to get them there, you have to offer them something else. In our case, it's putting in a restaurant or a movie theater. On the way out, you hope they gamble a little bit. My dad is a very special guy because he invented a bunch of stuff that a lot of other casinos use today. When he put the first theater in a casino, everyone laughed at him. When he put the first McDonalds in a casino, everyone laughed at him. He started the slot clubs. Now everyone has them. In the end, you have to offer the consumer something extra to get them in the door.
"Everyone wants to talk about gambling, alcohol, strippers, and prostitution. Vegas is probably one of the safest and cleanest towns in the United States. We just happen to have gambling. My family has been in the gaming business for years. If I weren't racing, I would be in the casino business. I love the casino business, and one day I plan on owning my own casino. I have as much fun working in the casinos as I do racing."
This season, Gaughn has had plenty of fun behind the No. 62 Orleans Hotel and Casino Dodge. After sweeping both events at Texas Motor Speedway as a Truck Series rookie a year ago, Gaughn has moved up the ladder to weekly front-runner this season. Like the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport slot machines in which he holds a personal interest, Gaughn is hoping to hit the jackpot as a NASCAR racer.
"Right now we're doing fairly well in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," Gaughn states. [As we go to press, Gaughn leads the series -Ed] "This series started as the California Super Truck Series. We're the only team from the West to survive in this deal, and that is very satisfying to me. I'd like to continue that success. I have a vision for the Orleans Racing Team. We have a Winston West team in our shop, with Scott Lynch doing the driving this season. I want to get some Southwest Tour cars, some Busch cars in there too. I'd like it to be an all-around team, kind of like Kenny Schrader's operation. We just expanded our shop to 30,000 square feet, and our engine shop is 12,000 square feet. NASCAR is moving more and more toward the West Coast and getting more national in scope. As a driver, I want to be in Winston Cup someday. I think we are in a great position to take advantage of that."
From The Ground UpAnyone who knows the spirited 27-year-old Gaughn doesn't flinch when he lays out his grandiose plans. While most kids spent their teenage years cutting grass or working in fast-food restaurants, Gaughn was toiling under the bright lights of the casino business.
"I started out bussing tables and washing dishes in our restaurants," Gaughn says. "In the casinos, I worked in the cage changing money, just like being a bank teller. I've worked the main bank where we shuffle the money to feed the windows, and in the rooms where you count the money. I've worked on the drop teams. Those are the people who empty the buckets and validate people's winnings. I can deal just about every game you have in the casino, including dice. I love dealing dice. I started for my grandfather at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas. It's still in the family, and my grandfather still lives in the hotel. It was an honor for me to work there."
Gaughn vividly remembers his first day on the casino floor as a dealer. "I was just a break-in dealer and kind of weak on all the games" says Gaughn. "Here I am, trying to hide it and all the bosses are coming up to me and giving me a hug because they remember me from when I was a little kid. There are people constantly all over me, behind me. In the casino business, there is never supposed to be anyone behind you. You have $200,000-$500,000 in front of you, and no one is ever supposed to be behind you. All of a sudden, my grandpa is hugging me and startling the hell out of me. The players are looking at me funny. It was totally crazy, but it was also neat to say I worked for my grandfather, a Vegas pioneer, and where my dad worked 30 years before that."
Getting SeriousGaughn has worked hard at becoming a quality racer. His father dabbled in desert off-road racing, winning the High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) championship in 1977-'78. When he was old enough, Gaughn went to work on SCORE dirt trucks, and by age 15 had made his debut, winning the '91 Twilight 200 with fellow teenage co-driver J.C. Dean.
The following year, Gaughn joined the team of legendary off-roader Walker Evans. Over the next four seasons, Gaughn split time racing, having fun, and eventually going to college at Georgetown University. Like most racers, Gaughn can easily remember the moment when he decided racing was for him.
"I did something stupid by crashing a truck, showing off for a girl after a race in Crandon, Wisconsin," Gaughn recalls. "My crewchief, Randy Anderson, grabbed me by the neck and told me I needed to take this seriously. He said we had 15 guys working on this truck to be racers and to put clothes on their kids' backs. If I wanted to play, they would bring in someone who would take things seriously. They would still let me play, but they would treat me like I was just playing around. I was only 19 at the time, but after that I took racing seriously."
By the time Gaughn graduated from Georgetown in 1997, Evans had also graduated to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. With some prompting from the veteran driver, Gaughn made his pavement debut in the '97 MCTS season finale at Las Vegas.
"I wasn't even thinking about NASCAR at the time, but Walker said I should try it," says Gaughn. "They had a test session at Vegas before the race, and they put me in a Truck between Ron Hornaday Jr. and Butch Miller. Those guys taught me the Trucks and the track, and we put in an application to do the race. NASCAR has their protocols, and even after I qualified 19th, I wasn't sure they were still going to let me race. I wound up crashing around Lap 50 after I passed Bill Elliott. I was so excited, I radioed the crew that I had passed Bill Elliott. Right after that, I totally destroyed my first Truck."
The experience made Gaughn realize he needed to get a handle on pavement racing, so for the next three seasons, he campaigned NASCAR Southwest Tour Late Models before moving to the Winston West Series, winning the division title in 2000 and 2001. When Dodge came calling at the end of that season, Gaughn eagerly jumped to the Truck Series last year.