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.
"I've spent almost my whole career with Dodge Motorsports," Gaughn states. "When I started, Dodge had no real racing entity other than with Walker Evans. We were the closest thing to a Dodge-supported deal at the time. My engine builder, Kevin Kroyer, built the Dodge Viper V-10s. Dodge gave us this thing and said we needed to make it work. Kevin tweaked it for three years, and we used it in our desert trucks. Can you imagine a Viper motor in a desert truck? When Dodge came to us in 2001 and said they wanted us to be a part of their team, Kevin went to Detroit to the Chrysler Training Center, and there, downstairs in the engineering rooms, were pictures of our old desert trucks with the Viper motors in them. All of our stuff is still down there, and I want to be the next guy to win a championship for Dodge. I won a championship in 1995 in the CORE off-road series, and I would like to bring another one back. That would be a big deal for me."
Truck Champ?Not all the bets are down on the '03 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship, but Gaughn is sure to be a player right to the final race at Miami. In Gaughn's mind, a Truck Series title would be the winning ticket to a personal goal of competing in Winston Cup.
"I think the Truck Series is better than the Busch Series in terms of trying to get to the next level-Winston Cup," says Gaughn. "I don't really want to go to the Busch Series if I don't have to. If I get a great ride, I would. I'm not saying the Busch Series is bad, but we've spent a lot of time, money, blood, sweat, and tears building this Truck team, and I think it gets you just as ready to get to Winston Cup as the Busch Series does. I'm going to stick with this until I get the right deal."
Speaking of the right deal, Gaughn also sees his long-term future in the gaming business as well. "The casino business is something that I would like to start before I retire as a racer," says Gaughn about his life plan. "I'd like to be at a point where I have enough time that I can start watching some casino stuff. If that's something with my dad, or doing something on my own, we'll just have to wait and see. I want to enhance my skills in the gaming business and then venture out on my own, but I definitely want to do that before I retire from racing."
You can bet on it.
From B-Ball To High BanksBrendan GaughnOK, how does a short guy from Las Vegas wind up on one of the premiere college basketball teams in the land-and as a roommate to superstar Allen Iverson? According to NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughn, it was more of an accident than anything.
"I actually went to Georgetown to play football," he says. "Coach Bob Benson is a great guy, and he is still there today. Everyone wants to talk to me about Georgetown basketball and Coach John Thompson, but football is what got me to Georgetown. It was the school's first year of 1AA competition. They had been a Division III school for a lot of years, but the NCAA made a rule that if you have a 1AA program, all of your programs had to be 1AA or you would have to drop them. Georgetown helped form the MAAC Conference, and Georgetown's first year of 1AA football was my freshman year.
"I was a better field-goal kicker than anything, and Coach Benson called and wanted to know if I wanted to play. I had been hurt in high school and had pretty much given up on football, but he gave me a shot. My first year at Georgetown, I was named to the MACC All Conference as a field-goal kicker, and we went to the Bermuda Bowl. We got to go to Bermuda for a football game. How cool was that?
"When football season ended, I was sitting in my dorm room one day and the phone rang, and it was Coach Thompson. He knew I was there because he was a business associate of my father's, and he had checked on me when I got to school that fall to make sure my class schedule was right. Anyway, he wanted to know what time my last class was and that I had better be in his gym five minutes after it was over. I was thinking this wasn't good.
I walked into the gym not knowing what to expect. Coach Thompson stopped practice, introduced me to the team, and sent me upstairs to put a jersey on. Because of injuries, the team was down to nine players, and they couldn't even hold a five-on-five scrimmage or practice. Coach needed a practice player. He needed a body, and he needed someone he knew would fit the Georgetown mold and follow the rules. I fit the bill and played as a practice player the first year, and was a member of the team my junior and senior year.
"I never expected that to happen. I mean, give me a break. Look at me. I'm short and slow. I played high school basketball but didn't play my last year and a half. I never fathomed playing basketball at Georgetown. C'mon, this is National Championships, Big East Championships, NCAA tournament every year. These are great athletes, great ball players. To do what I did and have the experiences I had at Georgetown-both in football and basketball-was pretty incredible and something I will always treasure and never forget."